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Entries in AT&T (4)


MWC Asia: Two views on IoT

IoT was the headline topic at MWC Asia last week. 5G and even VR got a lot of attention but IoT is where the action is. One sign: no one in Shanghai complained about becoming a dumb pipe.

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Shanghai free trade zone will also open up to telcos

So, the daring plan to let Facebook into the Shanghai free trade zone (reported here, here and here) may also mean the embrace of foreign telcos.

Hong Kong’s reported Tuesday that the FTZ would allow access to previously-blocked websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The story adds that the FTZ, the first in mainland China, “would also welcome bids from foreign telecommunications companies for licences to provide internet services within the new special economic zone.”

Given the role of FTZ as a business zone, this surely means some attractive enterprise contracts with MNCs and local firms. The three domestic operators, China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, have all accepted the arrival of foreign competition, the SCMP says.

The 29 sq km zone, located next to the Pudong business district and covering the airport and the Yangshan port, is intended to attract foreign investment and to trial some liberalised financial services. It is being hailed within China as akin to the establishment of special economic zones 30 years ago.

In that optimistic vein, we might see the FTZ, along with the opening of the MVNO market and the continuing talk of economic reform as signs of cracks in the wall around China telecoms.

This Reuters story on the campaign against monopoly abuses by economic reform outfit NDRC points out that:

The agency is also investigating the pricing practices of 60 local and foreign pharmaceutical firms. Autos, telecoms and banks might come next, regulators have suggested.

However, those with longish memories of Chinese telecoms may recall similar excitement accompanied AT&T’s joint venture with China Telecom and the Shanghai city government back in 2000. To quote People’s Daily back in the day:

Analysts said the deal will serve as a role model for foreign investors in the State-gripped market and other foreign firms are expected to follow the AT&T example when China enters the World Trade Organization.

That hasn’t happened. Shanghai Symphony is still the only foreign-invested telco JV in China, and a frustrating exercise for AT&T

China’s WTO promise to open up the telecom services sector has been a hollow one, but no surprise. Direct control over telecoms is a sine qua non of party rule, guaranteeing direct control over the net and influence over the entire digital economy. China ranks 173rd out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index and is on the NGO’s list of Enemies of the Internet.

None of this has changed. Rather, the current heavy internet crackdown tells us that, even if foreign operators are admitted to the FTZ, they will go no further.


Being right is the easy part

How the telecom industry saw the future and missed it - a continuing saga

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Nokia future lies on yellow(ish) Bric road

2010 was a shocker for Nokia, and if it were expecting a better start to 2011 it must be disappointed.

The former master of the handset universe has conceded defeat with its free Ovi music service, pulling the plug in 27 of the 33 markets it served.

According to the FT, the weak take-up was a result of poor marketing, limited handset choice, DRM issues and the ambivalence of operators who also offered music service. In other words, just about everything.

Nokia has also cancelled the launch of its Symbian-powered X7 phone in the US, reportedly because it was unhappy with the level of subsidies from AT&T.

The telling stat: Nokia’s flagship N8 costs $469 in the US (down from its $549 launch price). Consumers buy an AT&T-subsidized iPhone for as little as $199.

So there’s no love for Nokia from US carriers, and there won’t be until it comes up with an OS that is as user- and developer-friendly as the iOS or Android.

For that reason, we will continue to see stories like this one, reporting that Nokia is considering Windows Phone 7.

The grain of hope for Nokia – in fact more than a grain – is in emerging markets. In Q3, 65% of device sales came from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Greater China is now its biggest market outside Europe.

No surprise that Ovi Music Unlimited will confine itself to China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa. According to iResearch, the Ovi Store is China’s most popular download channel, just ahead of China Mobile’s Mmarket.

So Nokia's story is not all bad. It may be losing traction in Europe and North America, but it's making new ground in the high-growth BRICs. There are worse places to be.