FirstNews - June 08, 2009

Mon, 06/08/2009 - 8:04am

WWDC Anticipation: New iPhone?

By Andrew Berg

Apple today will kick off its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, Calif. As usual, the three-day conference opens to a bevy of rumors, ranging from a new iPhone to the unveiling of a touchscreen tablet.

Analyst Roger Entner, senior vice president of communications sector for Neilsen IAG, said a new iPhone is a “foregone conclusion,” adding that the most important additions to a new iPhone would be improved processor speeds and additional RAM. 

“[A faster processor and more RAM] should also make the download speeds from AT&T faster. Right now, the network is almost faster than the device,” he said.

The new device could also include a digital compass and an improved digital camera with auto-focus and video-recording capabilities. Entner gave an affirmative nod on all counts.

As for the possibility of a new touchscreen tablet, Entner doesn’t think so. “That is probably too early. There’s a pretty significant development process. It takes time to put stuff like that together,” he said. 

Some are saying Steve Jobs might make an appearance and either announce his return to the helm at Apple or his imminent retirement – the latter being an unlikely scenario. A cancer survivor, Jobs has been plagued by health problems recently. If Jobs does make an appearance, Entner doesn’t think it will be to announce retirement. While he doesn’t claim to know Jobs’ personal plans, Entner thinks the Apple co-founder is too deeply committed to the company.

“I think he’s a little like Charlton Heston with the prying of the gun from his cold dead hands. That’s how Steve Jobs feels about Apple. Either he comes back or he’s dead. I don’t think there’s retirement anywhere in his future,” Enter said.

The WWDC comes on the heels of the Palm Pre release on Sprint’s network, which some are saying may be the iPhone’s most formidable competitor. However, Apple’s recent announcement of the new iPhone 3.0 operating system and the subsequent APIs being offered to developers could keep the iPhone on top of the smartphone pyramid.

The hype and anticipation that typically surrounds the WWDC provides the ideal venue for the launch of new Apple technology. However, the key word here is “rumor,” and while the WWDC has enjoyed many a game-changing releases, it would be nearly impossible for any company to address all the gossip that the WWDC generates.


Analysts Split on RIM’s Outlook

By Maisie Ramsay

It’s a basic principle of capitalism: Increased competition can hurt a company by putting pricing pressure on products while forcing the company to boost marketing expenditures to sell the product.

But when it comes to Research In Motion (RIM), the picture is a bit more murky. Analysts say the company’s financial figures could be both harmed and benefited by the release of the Palm Pre, whose qwerty keyboard seems to make it a BlackBerry competitor.

Equities research firm Morningstar says that competition from new entrants like the Pre could ” pose a formidable challenge” to the company in its upcoming quarters, especially as demand remains soft and competing operating systems growth in strength.

One the other hand, the company’s first-quarter sales likely will benefit from Verizon Wireless’ extended “Buy One, Get One” offers on BlackBerry phones.

UBS analyst Maynard Um goes one step further, boldly arguing that the launches of the Palm Pre and latest iPhone will help rather than harm the company: “Although perhaps a little counter-intuitive, we believe the launch of the Palm Pre and Apple iPhone will benefit RIM due to increased carrier competition. We believe Verizon will continue to promote BlackBerry and think RIM can also benefit from potential renegotiations between AT&T and Apple,” Um said in a report. “We believe RIM’s guidance for the August quarter is likely to exceed our [estimates and Wall Street estimates], driven by new device launches as well as increased operator competition in the quarter.”

Indeed, shares of RIM have risen about 19 percent since early May, which UBS says reflects optimistic expectations and guidance for the first half of 2010. And despite its more cautious outlook, Morningstar says that strong BlackBerry sales bode well for the company.

The Pre effect won’t have a presence on RIM’s first-quarter results, which will be released after the market closes on June 18. A poll of 36 analysts conducted by Yahoo! Finance shows that the market expects the company to continue its gains. The company is expected to generate earnings of 93 cents per share on sales of $3.41 billion.

As for the second quarter, when the effect of the Palm Pre launch is more fully felt, those analysts predict RIM’s sales will rise to $3.58 billion, generating earnings of 95 cents per share.

UBS’s final comment: “While competitor launches will likely raise the bar for all handset vendors and has the potential for increasing volatility in the space, over the near-term, we expect RIM to benefit from the increased carrier competition given its strong position at Verizon and AT&T.”


Low Stock Keeps Pre in Demand

By Monica Alleven

The Palm Pre’s introduction over the weekend was what was expected: a low-key affair, with few devices actually in stock and available at many stores.

Palm shares were down more than 9 percent, at $11.73, in early trading today. The Pre and its webOS has been seen as a make-or-break product for Palm, which fell out of favor after once dominating the portable computing market with the Palm Pilot and later gathering a fan base with the Treo.

New York-based UBS Investment Research analysts visited five Sprint and three Radio Shack/Best Buy locations in the early hours of Saturday’s launch and interviewed 87 people in line or after buying a Pre. The limited supply generally resulted in stock “outs” before noon. Not surprisingly, about 70 percent of those surveyed were existing Sprint customers and about 40 percent were Palm users. The analysts reiterated their “Neutral” ratings on both Palm and Sprint.

At a Best Buy in Portland, Ore., the Pres were sold out Saturday, and a store associate advised that all Best Buys had only about two and, at the most, eight units for sale. A waiting list at one store had eight names on it by Sunday morning.  

Last week at a launch party in New York, Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse said the Pre release was a “coming out party” for Sprint, which is a “very different” company than it was 12 months ago. The carrier has been touting improvements in customer service and network performance.

The Pre has generated mostly positive reviews, including by the Associated Press.


Qwest to Keep Long-Distance Business

By The Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Qwest Communications International on Monday said it is calling off the auction for its nationwide long-haul data and telephone network.

The Denver-based phone company said the network was more valuable to the company than the amount it would raise in a sale.

Qwest did not say how much the bids it received were worth. News reports last week indicated Qwest received bids far below the $2 billion to $3 billion it wanted.

Qwest has a debt load of $13.3 billion, and the sale of the network at the right price could have given it some breathing room. However, the network is also useful in supporting its two other main businesses: local phone service in 14 states and nationwide services for government and corporations.

Level 3 Communications, which also operates a long-haul network, was mentioned as a potential buyer.

The wholesale business has seen declining revenues for some time, as competition is pushing down prices.

Qwest shares fell 17 cents, or 4.1 percent, to $4 in pre-market trading today.


S.D. Lawmakers: Cell Phone Rules Might Be Tried Again

By Austin Kaus, The Associated Press

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — As other states begin passing cell phone laws, South Dakota lawmakers say they won't be surprised if legislation to ban or limit the use of cellular phones while driving arises again in the next state legislative session.

"I do feel that there will be somebody that will bring it up again," said state Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell. "I think that's a distinct possibility."

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has signed into law a bill that will make it a crime to send text messages while driving. In addition, anyone younger than 18 is prohibited from using a cellular phone while driving.

In South Dakota, state Sen. Cooper Garnos, R-Presho, said he also expects to see some sort of legislation regarding cellular use while driving to appear in next year's session. Garnos is a former chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, while Vehle is the current chairman.

"It's not going to go away," Garnos said.

Both Vehle and Garnos said they have seen various incarnations of bills similar to that signed in Colorado last week.

In 2004, legislators rejected a bill that would have made it illegal for drivers with minor's permits to operate a motor vehicle while using a cellular telephone or other wireless telecommunications devices except to report an emergency. The bill was killed in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Garnos said cell phone usage can sometimes be a factor in accidents, but he also feels the argument is one of safety and individual rights.

"To me, it's common sense (that) if you're going down the road 75 miles per hour, you probably shouldn't be texting somebody or ... be on the cell phone," Garnos said. "How far do you go and how far do you legislate common sense?"

Vehle said potential legislation should take into account the differences between rural and urban settings in the state.

"(W)e have long stretches of road on the interstates where it's uneventful driving, generally, and that's different than if you're in six lanes of traffic downtown Sioux Falls and you're trying to text," Vehle said. "There's just a whole lot of difference there and so I think all those things you have to take into consideration."

Lyndon Overweg, chief of Mitchell's Department of Public Safety, said drivers using cell phones aren't a big problem in Mitchell, but his department still wants drivers to exercise caution while using cell phones on the road.

"The best thing is to pull over if you have to do texting or dialing or anything like that," Overweg said.

Overweg believes legislation to limit or ban cell phones eventually will be passed in South Dakota, and that's a potential situation that suits him just fine.

"Anytime we can enhance the safety of the road and take away distractions, that's what we're after," Overweg said.

Brooke Bohnenkamp, public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety, said cell phone usage was reported as a contributing factor in 138 South Dakota crashes in 2008. Of those, one was fatal and 57 included some type of injury.

Bohnenkamp said people who take actions that divert their attention away from driving, including text messaging and cell phone use, can be found in violation of the state's "careless driving" law.


Russian Bailiffs Set to Sell Telenor Stake

By Catrina Stewart, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian bailiffs said Monday they are preparing to sell most of Norwegian telecom company Telenor's 29.9 percent stake in VimpelCom, Russia's No. 2 mobile phone operator, to recover $1.7 billion owed in damages.

"The shares will be transferred in the near future for sale at auction," the bailiffs' press office said in a statement on its Web site.

Bailiffs seized a 26.6 percent stake in March after Telenor refused to carry out a Siberian court order to pay VimpelCom $1.7 billion in damages related to a years-old acquisition. The suit was brought by Farimex Products, an obscure shareholder with a tiny stake in Vimpelcom, which has accused Telenor of delaying Vimpelcom's entry into Ukraine.

The move ramps up the pressure on Telenor as it battles to save its Russian investment.

Telenor reacted angrily to the announcement, saying it would be "outrageous" to sell the shares before the conclusion of the appeal process. A court in the Siberian city of Tyumen is to hear Telenor's appeal on Wednesday.

"Even though the threat of a sale of Telenor's shares in VimpelCom has been there all the while since the shares were arrested, we expect that the bailiff will halt any plans of a sale or auction until the claim has been heard by all necessary court instances," said Jan Edvard Thygesen, head of Telenor's Central and Eastern European operations, in a statement.

"It would be outrageous if the bailiff's office should go ahead with a sale now."

Analysts say that Farimex's suit is part of a wider battle for control between Telenor and billionaire Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, the other main shareholder in VimpelCom, over their joint assets in Russia and Ukraine. It is fast emerging as a test case for President Dmitry Medvedev's commitment to the rule of law in Russia.

Telenor has accused Alfa of using its influence in Siberian courts to bring the suit under the guise of Farimex, but Alfa has denied that it has any connection to the offshore company. Alfa is pursuing an almost identical case against Telenor in Geneva.

Farimex has insisted it has pressed only for compensation to VimpelCom.

"This process is now out of our hands," Dmitry Chernoi, a lawyer for Farimex, said Monday. "It's in the hands of the bailiffs.

"We've said several times that we want VimpelCom to get the money, and we don't mind how they get it."


Japan Explores Using Cell Phones to Stop Pandemics

By Jay Alabaster, Associated Press Writer

TOKYO (AP) — A few months from now, a highly contagious disease will spread through a Japanese elementary school. The epidemic will start with several unwitting children, who will infect others as they attend classes and wander the halls.

If nothing is done, it will quickly gain momentum and rip through the student body, then jump to parents and others in the community. But officials will attempt to stymie the disease and save the school — using mobile phones.

The sickness will be a virtual one, in an experiment funded by the Japanese government. A subsidiary of Softbank has proposed a system that uses phones to limit pandemics.

The exact details have yet to be fixed, but Softbank hopes to pick an elementary school with about 1,000 students and give them phones equipped with GPS. The locations of the children will be recorded every minute of the day and stored on a central server.

A few students will be chosen to be considered "infected," and their movements over the previous few days will be compared with those of everyone else. The stored GPS data can then be used to determine which children have crossed paths with the infected students and are at risk of having contracted the disease.

The families of exposed students will be notified by messages to their mobile phones, instructing them to get checked out by doctors. In a real outbreak, that could limit the rate of new infections.

"The number of people infected by such a disease quickly doubles, triples and quadruples as it spreads. If this rate is decreased by even a small amount, it has a big effect in keeping the overall outbreak in check," said Masato Takahashi, who works on infrastructure strategy at Softbank.

He demonstrates with a calculation: If an infected person makes about three more people sick per day, and each newly infected person then makes another three people sick, on the 10th day about 60,000 people would catch the disease. If each sick person instead infected two people a day, on the 10th day about 1,500 people would get sick.

The experiment was conceived before the current outbreak of swine flu, but has drawn fresh attention now that Japan has the highest number of confirmed cases outside of North America.

It is one of 24 trials the government recently approved as part of a program to promote new uses for Japan's Internet and cellular infrastructure. The country boasts some of the most advanced mobile phone technology in the world. It is blanketed in high-speed cellular networks, and phones come standard with features like GPS, TV and touchless train passes.

The mobile phone market is largely saturated, however, and fees are being driven down by an ongoing price war. For Softbank, a government-backed health-monitoring service could be boon to business.

GPS has its shortcomings, including hazy readings indoors. But Softbank believes it could keep readings accurate to several yards, at least for an experiment in a limited area.

Until now, technologies like GPS have mainly been used to help people figure out where they are and what is nearby. As networked devices like the iPhone become more popular, new applications let people track their children or friends, and could give companies and governments access to their location.

Aoyama Gakuin University, a prestigious school in Tokyo, is giving Apple’s iPhone 3G to students, partially as a way to check attendance via GPS readings from an application running on the phone.

That kind of project raises privacy concerns, and one of the goals of the Japanese experiment is to judge how participants feel about having their location constantly recorded.

If a disease-tracking system were launched for real, no one would be required to sign up, said Takuo Imagawa, an official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Another concern for the experiment is how to inform people that they may be infected, even if it's just a virtual disease.

"If we don't think carefully about the nature of the warning, people that get such a message could panic," said Katsuya Uchida, a professor at the Institute of Information Security in Yokohama. Uchida serves on a board that evaluates such proposals for the government.

Softbank Telecom, the subsidiary that made the original proposal, might not be chosen by the ministry to run the experiment in the fall. But Takahashi says that whichever company is chosen, he hopes the potential benefits of a monitoring system are enough to persuade people to sign up and reveal their whereabouts.

"I think it would have a bigger impact than Tamiflu," he said.


FirstNews Briefs for June 8, 2009

Companies in the News: Sprint, Novatel, Verizon, AT&T, Boost Mobile, Motorola, Intel Capital, UQ Communications, Zain Nigeria, Ericsson, Bluetooth Special Interest Group, Freescale Semiconductor, Alvarion, eASPNet, Avago Technologies, Yap, Glu Mobile.

• Sprint announced its $39.99 Connection Plan for Corporate Liable accounts, providing 500 MB of data monthly – two to 10 times what Verizon and AT&T, respectively, offer for a similar price, according to Sprint. The plan is available with all devices in the Mobile Broadband device portfolio, including the Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200.

• Boost Mobile, the prepaid division of Sprint, announced the availability of its flagship Motorola Stature i9 handset in red. Boost Mobile first introduced the black Stature i9 in February in conjunction with its $50 Monthly Unlimited plan and says it has added a new color to keep up with retail demand.

• Intel Capital has invested $43 million in Japan-based UQ Communications, a provider of WiMAX mobile services. UQ Communications will use the funding to continue the nationwide expansion of UQ WiMAX service in Japan, with the commitment to provide WiMAX coverage to 90 percent of the country by 2012.

• Zain Nigeria and Ericsson have entered a five-year strategic managed services agreement under which Ericsson will operate Zain's nationwide GSM/W-CDMA networks in Nigeria.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the selection of Bluetooth wireless technology by Continua Health Alliance, an industry coalition of health care and technology companies. Once finalized, Continua will include the upcoming Bluetooth low energy wireless technology specification in Version Two of its Continua Health Alliance Design Guidelines.

• Freescale Semiconductor expanded on its commitment to GSM EDGE wireless networks with the introduction of three high-performance RF power transistors based on laterally-diffused metal oxide semiconductor (LDMOS) technology.

• Alvarion and eASPNet announced the building of a new mobile WiMAX network by Chunghwa Telecom in the northeastern county of Yilan for the local government under the M-Taiwan program. The network built using Alvarion’s 4Motion Mobile WiMAX solution will operate at 2.5 GHz.

• Avago Technologies is introducing a new series of miniature fully matched WiMAX and Wi-Fi power amplifier modules for mobile and fixed wireless data applications. Avago’s new MGA-2xx03 series of PA modules feature a compact 3 mm by 3mm by 1 mm package and are ideal for manufacturers of portable and mobile devices containing WiMAX or high power WiFi links, the company says.

• Yap announced the availability of its Software Development Kit (SDK) for the speech-enablement of iPhone applications. The Yap SDK for the iPhone gives developers an interface to voice-enable existing mobile applications such as e-mail, instant/text messaging, search, social networking, voicemail-to-text and others.

• Glu Mobile is launching the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen game for mobile handsets worldwide.


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