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#TBT: Palm Pre-view; Handset demand falters; 3G expected to change consumer electronics … this week in 2009

Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News goes all in for “Throwback Thursdays,” tapping into our archives to resuscitate the top headlines from the past. Fire up the time machine, put on the sepia-tinted shades, set the date for #TBT and enjoy the memories!

Sprint pins handset hopes on Palm Pre
Sprint Nextel Corp. is looking for a hero and it may well find one that fits in the palm of your hand – pun intended. In this case, Sprint Nextel is banking on the exclusive, hero handset from Palm Inc. dubbed the Pre. And the Pre’s launch is even more important to Palm, analysts said. This drama is widely expected to unfold in the May-June timeframe when Sprint Nextel and Palm hope to dominate, however briefly, the American consumers’ thoughts about wireless devices and services with the Pre launch. Neither company has announced an official launch date beyond “the first half of the year.” “The challenge for Sprint is to stem churn, and the Pre can do that,” said financial analyst Tavis McCourt at Morgan Keegan. “Attracting new subscribers will be more difficult. They’ve got to build buzz and, so far, they’ve done a pretty good job at that. Now they’ve got to execute.” McCourt has forecast that the operator and its longtime handset partner need to sell about 500,000 units per quarter for several quarters to declare success, and temporary relief for Palm. … Read more

Up to bat again: Wireless consumer protection bill 
House telecom subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) reportedly plans to craft a wireless consumer protection bill this year, an effort likely to reignite a debate over the role of states in a new national regulatory framework. At the same time, the Government Accounting Office is conducting interviews with eye toward issuing a report later this year on wireless service quality and related issues. House and Senate lawmakers have pursued a variety of wireless consumer protection bills in recent years, with the issue of state jurisdiction a flashpoint in the measures. “A set of national standards for consumer protection for the users of cellular telephone services would be a key component of the measure,” Boucher told CongressDaily AM, a publication of the National Journal. “The standards have to be, I think, very meaningful.” Boucher described the yet-to-be-written wireless consumer bill as a long-term objective aimed at updating similar legislation drafted last year by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who relinquished his long-held chairmanship of the telecom panel to lead the Commerce subcommittee on energy and the environment. The Markey draft directed the FCC to develop a national policy for wireless consumer protection that states would enforce, but stopped short of eviscerating a provision in a 1993 law that reserved to states oversight of terms and conditions of commercial wireless service. … Read more

3G set to revolutionize consumer electronics
Collecting a soggy newspaper from the end of the driveway in one’s pajamas is familiar to many of us. As newspapers and magazines pile up on the counters and in the recycling bin, we wonder if there couldn’t be an easier way. Technology is about to deliver. New 3G-enabled mobile handheld devices with super thin dynamic high-resolution screens – ideally suited for reading newspapers, books and magazines – will begin appearing later this year. This handheld will automatically receive content in its various forms overnight, and by the morning’s first cup of coffee today’s newspaper will be waiting on your device. These “e-readers” present a new category of mobile-enabled consumer device. Amazon’s Kindle, launched last year, delivers entire books via digital files over Sprint’s 3G network. Amazon has already sold an estimated 500,000 Kindle units; demand has been so high that the company ran out of inventory during the past holiday season. Kindle users swear by the devices, and vow never to buy a paperback again. Not only is this new form of digital distribution advantageous environmentally, it also presents a unique opportunity to significantly reduce printing and shipping and stocking costs – the same way that digital music delivery did via MP3 players. … Read more

LG Spyder handsets recalled over 911 bug
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said about 30,000 LG Electronics Co. Ltd. handsets are being recalled because of 911-calling-related problems. “The recalled phones can have difficulty sustaining a connection or have poor voice quality on calls to emergency 911,” the CPSC stated in a recall alert. “The firm has received one report of a motorist in a disabled car who was able to dial 911, but the call was dropped because the network had difficulty establishing a GPS lock on the phone. No injuries have been reported.” The CPSC said LG’s U.S. subsidiary LG MobileComm USA Inc. voluntarily agreed to conduct the recall. The agency said the recall involves the LG 830 Spyder with software versions T83LGV03 and T83LGV04. The handsets, manufactured in Korea, were sold by various dealers for operation on wireless networks operated by regional carriers Cellular South Corp., Cellcom, Bluegrass Cellular, Centennial de Puerto Rico, Appalachian Wireless, Illinois Valley Cellular, Northwest Missouri Cellular, Inland Cellular, Leaco, Golden State Cellular, Thumb Cellular, Silver Star Communications, and Nex-Tech Wireless. … Read more

Handset vendors face flagging demand
Like cartoon coyotes that draw themselves to full height before an exaggerated pounce on prey, handset vendors have offered little this year – but portended much – before an expected lunge at the market. Major vendors, particularly smartphone purveyors, have largely passed up the first two industry gatherings of the year to introduce new devices, while promising greatness to come. Based on flagging consumer demand – forecasts for the overall handset market in the first quarter run as dismal as negative 25% year-on-year growth – this calm-before-the-storm, whether intentional or not, will soon give way to white-hot competition in the smartphone segment. If that shift in emphasis to smartphones appears counter-intuitive in a severe economic downturn, consider this: This year’s offerings were hatched in better times – late 2007 and early 2008 – when smartphone growth skyrocketed to 36% even as the overall handset market slowed to 5.4% in 2008, down from 16% the prior year, according to ABI Research. At least in the United States, that trajectory was ignited by Apple Inc.’s two iPhone launches and aided by massive carrier subsidies and marketing campaigns for hero handsets at or near the top of their portfolios as carriers sought to convince consumers of the efficacy of mobile data. At AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, smartphones have become as much as 35% to 40% of their portfolios, according to financial analyst company Morgan Keegan, though smartphone users comprise only 20% of those carriers’ subscriber bases. … Read more

Mobile banking in emerging markets
Mobile banking is beginning to get legs in emerging markets, but it’s not just the noble goals of empowering individuals and helping the downtrodden that is driving the space. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shone a spotlight on the space recently, announcing a $12.5 million donation to help bring cheap mobile financial services to people in developing markets. The money will back Mobile Money for the Unbanked, a program that works with industry players to overcome barriers in deploying m-banking services to the reported 1 billion users worldwide who have phones but no bank accounts. The initiative hopes to support roughly 20 projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, reaching 20 million previously unbanked people by 2012. While these are still early days for m-banking in the poorest regions of the world, there are solid indications that mobile players can do well as they do good. Perhaps the most noted effort is M-Pesa, a Kenyan system developed by Vodafone and the carrier Safaricom Ltd. The service offers 4,200 locations nationwide and a network of more than 7,000 shopkeepers and other agents who take deposits and issue cash from users who authorize the transactions on their phones using a PIN code. M-Pesa supports transfers ranging from $1.25 up to $440 to any other cellphone, starting at about 40 cents per transaction (about 45% of traditional transfer services). The company claims its 5.5 million users – one-sixth of Kenya’s population – transferred more than $50 million in January. … Read more

Check out the RCR Wireless News Archives for more stories from the past.



Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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