FryUp: Turning it down a notch

Yahoo! Xtra blushes, while Telecom ramps down its WCDMA launch

Telecom sees red

Full marks to Vodafone’s ad agency and media buyers for colouring the Yahoo!Xtra homepage red and festooning it with logos, even if it only lasted a few minutes before being pulled.

It’s safe to say that Telecom management wasn’t “Bowlered” over by the move.

Turning it down a notch

Telecom is putting a brave face on the WCDMA rollout this year being reduced to a mere pilot at the end of the year, with inbound roaming for overseas travellers and no large-scale launch as was previously expected.

While Telecom spokespeople say the network build is largely complete, word on the street is that the full launch won’t take place until June 2009. Telecom will only say “later in the fiscal year” when asked for a launch date.

Because Telecom has no option but to deliver a very good customer experience with the new WCDMA network, delaying the launch until everything works really well is good from that perspective.

From a marketing perspective, it’s probably something of a disaster however. Apparently, the telco is trying to source more CDMA handsets to sell in the run-up to Christmas now that there won’t be a WCDMA launch.

This is proving hard, as orders closed in February for pre-Christmas delivery. It’s possible that Telecom’s overseas partners like Sprint will come to the aid, but that’s not at all guaranteed, so it’ll be interesting to see what the incumbent’s Christmas device line-up will look like.

The lack of a November launch also explains why Telecom’s been so quiet about its plans to migrate CDMA handset customers to GSM/WCDMA. That by itself will be quite some exercise.

Then there’s actual technology: presently, Telecom’s WCDMA network is meant to be 2100MHz UMTS in towns and 850MHz GPRS/EDGE elsewhere.

Officially, Telecom is now saying it’s evaluating WCDMA in the 850MHz band as well, since Telstra and AT&T have both deployed such networks. More providers operating 850MHz WCDMA networks mean a greater choice of devices at lower prices.

There could be another reason for Telecom looking at 850MHz WCDMA as well: a dearth of 2100MHz cell sites to provide the necessary coverage for a successful service launch. While 2100MHz is a global standard with plenty of operators using the frequency, it doesn’t reach as far as 850MHz or penetrate buildings and objects as well.

In other words, 2100MHz requires more cell sites than 850MHz. Thanks to the slow and cumbersome Resource Management Act here, obtaining new cell sites isn’t a walk in the park for Telecom, so the fewer that are required, the better.

It could very well be that Telecom’s changed course drastically, and is now looking at a nationwide 850MHz network that covers the cities as well, rather than battling bureaucracy to get permits for more 2100MHz base stations.

Still, we mustn’t forget that Telecom is talking about operating three networks in the same frequency band over the next five years: the existing CDMA one, plus a GSM and WCDMA one. It’s not clear how that can be done without interference affecting one or more of the cellular networks in the same band.

According to Telecom, if it goes down the 850MHz WCDMA route, it’s confident that it’ll be ready with nationwide 3G before a certain competitor’s publicly stated date of April 2010.

Telecom had better be on target with the above, because the current hiatus in the mobile arena must hurt it. Customers want more certainty, something competitors will be homing in on.

- Miki Szikszai: Telecom 850 WCDMA – more developments

- Miki Szikszai: Why would Telecom launch an 850MHz UMTS network?



Robert X Cringely

No business like show business

There's yet another silly fight brewing in the blogosphere, as TechCrunch and Demo launch dueling beauty pageants for Webbish startups. Is this good for anyone (other than Demo and Michael Arrington)? Cringely has a few thoughts. Big trade shows like CES (and in the paleolithic era, Comdex) may have all the glitz, glamour, and booth bimbos, but the real action happens in the smaller confabs where the elite meet and greet. That's where the next Googles and Facebooks will emerge. For the last few years that's been Demo, Uncle Walt Mossberg's "The D Conference," and a handful of others. Now TechCrunch's Michael Arrogant Arrington is jumping into the fray with two large left feet and taking no prisoners. The "TechCrunch 50" confab in San Francisco is scheduled for September 8 to 10, heavily overlapping DemoFall in San Diego on September 7 to 9. Coincidence? I think not. "Demo needs to die," Arrington said in an interview with CNET last April. The conversation hasn't improved much since then. Demo honcho Chris Shipley was a bit more polite in her response: I’m not at all surprised by the competition. A year or so ago, TechCrunch set its sites on DEMO and has been lobbing missiles our way ever since.... I also understand that it’s much easier to imitate a successful venture than to create a new value proposition. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then consider me well flattered today. This week the flame war between TC and Demo got doused with five gallons of kerosene when a former Demo staffer accused Arrington's TC50 partner, Jason Calacanis, of plagiarizing a document she allegedly wrote 10 years ago on how to be a "Demo God." Arrington responded by calling Demo a "payola-based competitor" because it charges companies $18,500 to do presentations, while TC50 is "free." (According to comments on the site, TC50 still charges presenters $3K "to cover costs" -- so "cheap" is probably more accurate.) And... yadda yadda yadda. Expect more manure to fly before the dust settles next month. Chris Shipley is a former Infoworlder and a well respected journalist. But neither IFW nor I have any connection to the show, so I don't have a horse in this race. I got invited to both though, and I'm picking Demo. Why? Because like a lot of tech journalists, I have problems with Arrington and TechCrunch. Yes, he gets a lot of readers and has enormous influence. But the reporting on his site is closer to the Weekly World News than the Wall Street Journal. They will apparently reprint any rumor, regardless of its relation to reality. The site has ties to some of the companies it covers (for which it has been criticized elsewhere) and Arrington's notion of "research" doesn't appear to stretch much further than calling his buddies in the VC world and asking their opinions. Worse, he takes a VC approach to everything: If a company makes money for investors, it's good thing, regardless of whether consumers get screwed. Hence his over-the-top responses to the failed MicroHoo venture. Three days of this? No thank you. I'd rather watch "payola-based" demos. At least then I'll know who paid for them.

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