Mobile Sands

April 28, 2009

Amazon Gets eBook Store on iPhone by Acquiring Stanza

Filed under: App Store, eBooks, iPhone — Tags: , , , , — AJ @ 3:10 pm

One of the key features missing in Amazon’s Kindle iPhone app is the ability to browse and purchase eBooks.  A customer must purchase eBooks through Amazon’s website and add them to her account, before she  reads them using the Kindle iPhone reader.  As I have speculated in earlier posts, this feature is missing because Apple does not want anyone, especially Amazon, to create an alternative to its App Store on the iPhone.  However, one eBook seller that had slipped through iPhone’s app approval process was Lexcyle/Stanza – back in the days when Steve Jobs was saying that “people don’t read anymore”.  Yesterday, Amazon acquired Stanza and may have fixed that gap in its offering.

Back in January (before Kindle’s iPhone app was released), I spent some time comparing Stanza and Fictionwise’s’ eReader. While (in my opinion) eReader offered a better reading experience, Stanza offered a better way to browse and acquire books.  Stanza has tie-ups with several book sources (Fictionwise, feedbooks, Smashwords etc.) and provides book reviews from GoodReads. Unlike eReader, customers could browse through all these book catalogs without logging in, and it was easy to purchase books.  

Stanza grew quickly and was downloaded over 1.5 million times. However, things started changing after Amazon released the Kindle App in early March.  Another established bookseller, Indigo, released its Shortcovers app. And, at the same time, Stanza’s main book seller partner, Fictionwise got acquired by Barnes and Noble.  Plus, several publishers are now selling books as stand-alone apps on iPhone. With larger booksellers in the game, Stanza probably became untenable as a stand-alone business, and agreed to Amazon’s embrace. Amazon now gets the Stanza store, and we wil see how the Stanza store changes in coming months.

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April 21, 2009

AT&T’s Investment in GSM/UMTS Delivers Subs & Easier 4G Uprade

Filed under: 3G, LTE, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — AJ @ 4:11 am

AT&T’s investment in GSM & UMTS is paying off.  Not only does it have an exclusive on the most desirable handset in the US market, it may also be able to upgrade to 4G at lower cost than its major rivals.

Almost 10 years ago, the different components of today’s AT&T (AT&T Wireless, BellSouth, SBC, others…) started migrating their 2G TDMA networks to 2G GSM.  They launched their first GSM/GPRS networks in 2001 and completed the migration by 2004. See this AT&T and Cingular milestones chart for more information.  Also, see this 2002 press release on the first TDMA-GSM handset

This was a period in which CDMA carriers had the lead. While Cingular and AT&T were migrating their TDMA network to GSM, Verizon Wireless was improving the coverage of its CDMA network and getting ready to launch 3G.  By the time Cingular completed nationwide 2G GSM coverage (07/2004), Verizon Wireless was ready to launch 3G EV-DO networks in over 30 major cities.  

Further, Verizon and Sprint – the two nationwide CDMA carriers – were able to rollout 3G relatively inexpensively. Both carriers just had to add channel cards to their existing CDMA base stations.  As per Verizon’s January 2004 announcement, it planned spend $1 billion to build out nationwide EV-DO coverage (compare this to the $7.2B for broadband in the stimulus package!).

Verizon may still have the best voice and data coverage in America,  but advantage has now shifted to AT&T.  With HSPA, AT&T can now boast of having the fastest 3G network and AT&T’s GSM network allowed it to get Apple’s iPhone device in 2007. As Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg admitted in a recent interview with the WSJ,  Apple never seriously considered building a CDMA device.  And it is the  iPhone that helped AT&T outpace Verizon in 2008.

Things get more challenging for Verizon (and other CDMA carriers) with 4G.  While Verizon and Sprint (Clearwire) invest billions on building their respective 4G networks, AT&T claims that it will be able to increase the peak sector throughput of its UMTS base stations from 3.6 Mbps to 7.2 Mbps via a software upgrade,  and then to 21 Mbps by upgrading to HSPA+ (the HSPA+ upgrade will involve upgrading antennas to MIMO).  These incremental base station upgrades, combined with backhaul upgrades, give AT&T the time to wait till LTE equipment is stable and cheaper.  Of course, Verizon and Sprint (Clearwire) understands the risks, and are taking aggressive steps to drive their network equipment and handset vendors to make their 4G migration as successful as possible. Still, the next two years will be very interesting.

April 18, 2009

Verizon’s Open Device Initiative – now with LTE

Filed under: eBooks, LTE — Tags: , , , — AJ @ 5:00 am

Verizon today released its initial set of technical specifications for “open devices” that will run on its LTE network. The specs are avilable at www.verizonwireless-opendevelopment.com. Intrigued, I decided to register, download the specs and read some more about Verizon’s ODI. Verizon also has scheduled a web conference on May 13th that I plan to participate (if you would like me to ask any questions, please post them as comments on the blog)

Devices for LTE

As the first operator in the world to deploy LTE, Verizon must be thinking hard about what to do with the network, especially in the first 12-24 months when there will be few compelling consumer devices and apps.  As with EV-DO, the first devices sold to consumers will be data modems. Verizon has also been positioning LTE as a way to address the rural broadband problem and has recommended that its LTE network be included in the national broadband coverage map that NTIA is putting together.  

To go beyond broadband coverage, Verizon needs new hardware and software applications that leverage its network. Its competitor, Clearwire, is making the same push and recently announced a WiMAX “sandbox” network in Silicon Valley. The device specifications that Verizon has released at this stage are limited to communication features of the device i.e. how one can get a LTE modem certified.  It is a good start. However, before application developers start investing, Verizon will have to provide information on:

 

  • allowed application development platforms and OSs
  • pricing – per MB and for “unlimited” usage
  • policy towards bandwidth hungry applications like video 
  • policy towards applications that may be compete with Verizon services
  • services offered by Verizon’s to-be-built LTE core
  • (and perhaps, more)

 

Perhaps, some of these questions will be answered on the May 13th call, and more details will appear soon after. 

Verizon’s Open Device Initiative (ODI) So far

It is worthwhile to look at the track record of ODI so far. When Verizon announced it last year, it was touted as “Any App, Any Device”.  And folks like Gizmodo believed that, “a small company with mobile knowhow can develop and get their iPhone-killer certified and on Verizon’s network with minimal interference”.  

Perhaps, that may happen some day, but not yet. The devices Verizon has certified so far are:

  • modems for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, from BlueTree, Cal Amp and Telular
  • smart grid communication devices from Ambient and OpenWay
  • routers for sharing your EV-DO connection from folks like Cisco
  • specialized PCs like Motion Computing’s mobile clinical assistant 

From the website, it does not seem that the ODI program is very well staffed. For instance, both the devices announed at CTIA on 04/02/09 – Motion Computing’s Mobile Clinical Assistant and Sierra Wireless’s USB 598 – were not listed on the page for certified devices on 04/18/09 . I was able to read all the posts on the developers’ forum (yes, all) in less than 15 minutes and all the Verizon replies were from one person, with many questions unanswered.

Further the ODI program focuses on devices only, not on applications. So, if you want to an application certified, you need to go to http://www.vzwdevelopers.com.  The ODI program seems to be limited to device certification. There is no information on how data plans are priced on these devices. That is still a case-by-case discussion.  

Even if we believe that no one has submitted an iPhone-killer for approval, it is surprising how few devices have been certified so far.  Perhaps there are dozens of devices in the pipeline! At CTIA, Verizon’s Tony Lewis did say that the carrier has been approached by five Kindle rivals (Kindle runs on Sprint’s EVDO network) and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg forecasted the proliferation of M2M devices will lead to 500% wireless penetration.  Or perhaps, Verizon has a long way to go in making the process really easy and streamlined.


April 5, 2009

LTE in spotlight at subdued CTIA

Filed under: 3G, LTE, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — AJ @ 3:52 am

CTIA 2009 was subdued but well attended.  Still, people and companies that had to be at the show to network were there.  LTE continued its march towards becoming the undisputed 4G technology, with most major infrastructure vendors either demonstrating their LTE products or presenting their story, with many claiming (optimistically, I think) that they will have a “commercial solution” by the end of 2009.

Several large vendors demonstrate LTE

  • Motorola was not only demonstrating LTE speed but also mobility. It had set up two LTE base stations (700 MHz, FDD) close to the convention center. A van equipped with an LTE modem and capturing HD video and piping it to the booth, while passengers in the van could see the van. Motorola also had an LTE TDD base station in the booth and were using it for additional video demos.
  • ZTE was demonstrating LTE data speeds and were showing a prototype LTE base station (digital functions running on microTCA chassis, connected to a remote radio head).
  • LG was demonstrating its handset baseband implementation using infrastructure from Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent.  LG was showing 40 Mbps download rates with Nortel’s LTE gear, and using the ALU gear for a VoIP calls.
  • Qualcomm was demonstrating LTE handset baseband with third-party infrastructure (I believe, Nokia Siemens Networks) and talking about three multi-mode LTE chips (MDM9200, MSM 8960, MDM 9800 ) that will sample in mid-2009. 
  • I did not see LTE demos in Huawei, ALU, Ericsson and NSN booths, but that does not mean they did not have demos for select customers and analysts.  All of them did have presentations in which they talked about their “end-to-end LTE solutions” covering eNBs, EPC, and OA&M.  And I am sure, many of you have already read about how Nokia compared WiMAX to Betamax.

Smaller vendors thinking about building LTE base stations as well

I had written off LTE RAN equipment as a play for big infrastructure vendors.  However, during conversations at the show, I was surprised to hear that several smaller companies are thinking about building LTE base stations as well. Airwalk is one. And I heard about few WiMAX companies who want to build LTE base stations as well.  Practically all of them are thinking about pico/micro base stations that implement standards-based interfaces to the core. 

From CDMA2000 to LTE

CDG had organized a workshop to convince CDMA2000 operators that they can deploy LTE directly, without having to switching to UMTS now.  I made it to the workshop for the last 30 minutes and heard part of ALU’s presentation in which the ALU speaker argued that it would be best to leave voice on CDMA 1xRTT for several years and use LTE just for data…

Blackberry App Store, Next-gen Backhaul and more

Of course, there was lot happening at CTIA besides LTE.  RIM’s CEO Mike Lazaridis formally launched Blackberry’s App Store at CTIA.  Initial reviews were mixed.  See CNET and Sensobi.  Backhaul was on the minds of the few operators I spoke to, and there were several Ethernet and wireless/microwave  backhaul solutions on display, as a well as a half-day workshop on next-generation backhaul open to all attendees.  Verizon reiterated its aggressive LTE plans, talked about the need to reduce the number of handset platforms, and announced that it had teamed up with Vodafone, Softbank and China Mobile to create a “single platform” for developing applications.  If you are interested, CTIA has posted all the keynotes on its website.

Please feel free to comment, or add any other information about the show!

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