Motorola Buy Ashes Of Sendo: Analysis

Motorola Buy Ashes Of Sendo: AnalysisIt’s not everyday a new mobile handset company comes along, so it was sad news to hear that Sendo, a relatively new entrant, had gone into administration. Motorola weren’t slow to see a good buy, and purchased it by the afternoon. Guy Kewney takes us through the reasons.

Sendo is dead; there is now nothing left of it, except a new set of features for Motorola, which  has formally  announced its purchase of Sendo from the administrator.

Effectively, Sendo went bust because its gamble failed; it should have been the world’s leading provider of smartphones, but had to quit the business when it fell out with Microsoft, and start all over with Nokia/Symbian.

The company was making money, but spending more. It was, say competitors, winning business by two ploys. The first was its breakthrough ploy, and that’s the one which Motorola has bought it for: the ability to produce a phone that does everything the operator wants.

“The difference between Motorola and Sendo,” said one source today, “was that if Vodafone said: “We need these features for Vodafone Live!” then Motorola would say: “Let’s get working, and we’ll have something for you in nine months!” while Sendo would say “OK, we’ll do it now.”

Another source said: “The ‘entire intellectual property portfolio – including 50 existing and 40 pending patents’ which Motorola referred to in its release is half of the reason. The software they want is the software which allowed Sendo to configure a phone for people like Orange for Orangeworld – but almost more important, is getting the people at Sendo who knew how to configure that software.”

Motorola already has a Symbian licence, and the deal doesn’t give them Sendo’s Series 60 licence. Some sources insist that nonetheless, the move shows a significant move away from Windows Mobile, following the cancellation of its long-awaited WM Bluetooth phone recently – but that is almost certainly wishful partisan thinking, since Motorola has both Symbian and WM phones on its road-map.

Motorola Buy Ashes Of Sendo: AnalysisPartisan thinking is also behind suggestions that Sendo’s collapse owes nothing to Microsoft’s actions in the split between the two corporations.

The most recent disaster, admittedly, was  Ericsson’s doing, not Microsoft’s: but the crunch was inevitable, after Microsoft’s attempt to pull the plug on Sendo (analysis shows how easily this could have been deliberate).

At the time Microsoft and Sendo parted company, Sendo was the sole provider of the only Microsoft smartphone in the world; it was literally years ahead of all rivals, except perhaps for Nokia with its Communicator. Because of the collapse of the Microsoft-Sendo partnership, however, Sendo found itself as far behind the mass market as it had been in front.

Smartphones were crucial to founder Hugh Brogan’s strategy. They are deliciously high margin products, and also high profile. Without the smartphone, the only way Sendo could win contracts was:

  • by offering to customise them for “added value” services like Vodafone Live!
  • by cutting the margins below the bone.

The hope was that the company’s financiers would stand by it until it reached the point where it could start charging market rates, and making profits.

“Actually, they might have managed that,” said one source, who works for a company that contracts to Motorola, “but for the fact that they built some very poor phones. Poor build quality meant they were struggling to win repeat contracts from several networks.”

Guy Kewney’s NewsWireless


Finland Plums for Flarion Flash-OFDM. Europe to follow?

Finland Plums for Flarion Flash-OFDM. Europe to follow?The announcement of the Finnish 450 MHz cellular data licence isn’t today’s surprise; the surprise is that Flarion – the technology provider – is not announcing that Flash-OFDM is now an ITU standard. There should have been such an announcement: why the delay?

Politics is as important as technology to the future of wireless broadband, and the battle between next generation technology providers is being fought between Qualcomm and Flarion on one hand, and Qualcomm and IP Wireless on the other.

The claim made by Flarion is that if you use normal cellphone frequencies, but add orthogonal frequency division multiplexing technology to it, you can get an order of magnitude more users per cell, and more data per user. Finland seems to have bought the idea: the first Flash-OFDM network contract has been awarded.

It could be the first domino.

Europe has been playing with Flarion technology for a couple of years. Trials have been set up – like the T-Mobile experiment in The Hague last year. And more significantly, there have been rumours of trials in Eastern Europe – countries like Lithuania and Estonia.

Traditionally, Finland has been a pioneer of high speed data, and those countries take their cue for technology from there; and the buzz in the cellular world is that several Governments in former Eastern Bloc territories will now follow suit and buy Flash-OFDM.

The Finnish contract is for re-using the old analogue phone frequencies. The same 450 MHz band is coming up for re-assignment in many European countries, and the front runners there, as in Finland, will be Qualcomm’s CDMA technology.

Qualcomm isn’t going to take that lying down. It’s been trying to lobby European and Eastern European and Middle Eastern comms authorities for a while – unsuccessfully, so far.

A couple of contracts will go to Qualcomm – because it owns majority shares in the network providers there. But this is a major setback for its plan to win back the geography it lost when GSM was invented.

Finland Plums for Flarion Flash-OFDM. Europe to follow?Official details of the announcement include optimistic pronouncements from Flarion, but nothing about what really matters: the need for the Flarion Flash-OFDM technology to be a standard.

The reason for that, say sources in the IEEE, is simple: the standard was supposed to be announced by both the ITU and the IEEE. But the 802.20 process is stalled, and nobody who knows what is going on inside the IEEE doubts that this is because Qualcomm is lobbying fiercely, using “patriotic” arguments.

The result is that in a sense, Qualcomm will win: the ITU will adopt the Flarion technology, and the IEEE will delay its announcement – possibly for months, even years.

That will make the matter look as if it is Europe against America. That in turn could hold up the standardisation process even longer; American technology companies don’t all worship at the CDMA altar, and many of them are making fortunes out of GSM. But Congress is full of people who do not understand this. And Qualcomm lobbyists will not fail to exploit this.

The losers, of course, will be the mobile networks. They need this sort of technology if they are to survive the avalanche of ideas like BT Fusion. Fusion has gone off half-cocked, perhaps; but the idea will be refined, and not only by BT and Vodafone.

What the operators of the world need is a technology that gives them data speeds and capacities, sufficient to match what can be done with technology like WiFi and WiMAX. So Qualcomm may not, in fact, make itself too many friends by forcing people to choose between CDMA and WiFi, when their tests seem to show that there is a viable alternative.

Guy Kewney has been writing on technology for longer than most. He runs as well as writing for many including VNU.

Flarion and Vodafone Trial High Speed Wireless Internet in Tokyo

It’s now over to the politicians. Nobody who has seen Flarion’s sales pitch has failed to be impressed by “what if?” this technology were available. Faster than 3G and covering more users at the same time, with far lower network latency – if we had this, there wouldn’t be all the discussion about WiFi phones. But the technology looked to be illegal. 

Now, in a deal with Vodafone which covers metro Tokyo Flarion is going to get the test bed it needs to convince the world’s Governments to allow this technology in existing spectra.

The barrier to Flarion’s Flash-OFDM wireless is that the GSM and 3G network operators are licensed, pretty much anywhere in the world, to provide a voice service using specific technology on their masts. And Flarion offers a pure IP network, which is neither WCDMA nor GSM.

Of course, you can carry voice over IP networks; but the small print doesn’t appear to explicitly allow a voice network to be done this way, and often, specifically insists on GSM or WCDMA technology. And politicians are wary of buying into a new technology, because there are powerful lobbies threatening to take real money off them if they do.

The problem is that in all too many countries, huge sums have been raised in 3G phone auctions. If the various Governments who conducted these auctions suddenly rendered 3G obsolete by licensing a new system, the calls for refunds would be loud and strident.

On the other hand, if the mobile phone companies initiated the move, they’d be effectively conceding that they didn’t care about the original high-priced licence rip-off.

The trial is being described as low key and routine, by Vodafone: “Vodafone undertakes technical trials of emerging technologies to ensure we are well positioned to drive future research into mobile system solutions,” said today’s announcement. “Such programmes also enable Vodafone to respond quickly to commercial opportunities with specific market requirements should the need arise,” said Professor Michael Walker, Vodafone Group Research and Development Director.

The mobile broadband trial will start in mid 2004 and will cover metropolitan areas of Tokyo. Vodafone “will conduct field tests of Flarion’s system performance, user mobility, subscriber scalability, robustness, and transparent delivery of enterprise and consumer applications over an end-to-end IP network infrastructure.”

The trial will use Flarion’s commercially available FLASH-OFDM PC card modems for laptops and PDAs, to field test broadband Internet access, enterprise productivity applications, as well as gaming.

No mention of voice in that, but if it works as described, VoIP (voice over IP) trials will certainly be part of it. That was demonstrated at CTIA in Atlanta, in March.

But this isn’t the first public trial. In America, Nextel has a customer paying network in the high-tech nexus of Raleigh-Durham, and that has been public since mid last year. that network is a commercial which covers 1,300 square miles, in which there are 1.1 m people including residential, small businesses, and four of the largest American universities. The intention is to have 10,00 subscribers by end of this year, and there are around 130 mast sites. So it is a large substantial network.

The Vodafone trial, by contrast, will be just 7-8 sites; for purely technical testing.

Exactly how well Flash-OFDM works in a live application is an issue that many experts have debated. In theory, in Flarion’s white papers, FLASH (Fast Low-latency Access with Seamless Handoff) has an average downlink speed of 1.5 megabits per second – somewhere between five and six times the data rate of WCMDA 3G phones. Also in theory, it can handle far more simultaneous users, between two and three times, according to Flarion’s own estimates.

The technology is based on work done in Bell Labs, and inherited by Lucent, which spun Flarion off in February 2000. So – after Qualcomm – some industry analysts are very nervous about building an industry standard around a single intellectual property owner again.

The real appeal, however is that FLASH-OFDM allows for low latency access. Latency, the time wasted by a network while it processes data internally, is down to LAN standards.

The latency of a 2.5 G network can be enormous. The GPRS standard actually permits delays of over 10 seconds – 800 ms and above is the agreed specification. Ten seconds is not that unusual, if the user is moving from one cell to another. Nearly all Internet based software will assume the link is broken if delays on that scale occur, and will time out or crash.

Latency of WCDMA is far lower, but still can reach large fractions of a second. In an unloaded network it would be 250 ms; as you load the net, it can be one second and above.

Flarion has said that average sustained latency of Flash-OFDM is below 50 milliseconds, and can be far lower. This will be one key factor which Vodafone will evaluate in live trials. Trials in Europe with “an operator” (Flarion can’t disclose which) ran at 28 ms average.

Also, Vodafone will want to assess IP Quality of Service (QoS), and Flarion’s claims of “high spectral efficiency and full mobility” and “ubiquitous, LAN-like user experience” claims, too. Flarion categorises standard Third generation (3G) mobile networks as “circuit-switched, hierarchical architectures.” You are connected to a given end-point during the whole of a call, rather than sending packets into a true packet switched IP network, they say: consequently “there is tension between the design objectives and the current environment of the wired Internet and mobile voice networks. The resulting design compromises of circuit-switched networks, which are optimised for voice, impair their ability to deliver high-speed, low-latency data cost effectively.”

If Flarion is right, the big saving is cost to the operator. “The resulting high cost-per-megabyte of data delivery over circuit-switched based networks will prevent the emergence of mass-market wireless Internet access. An alternative approach, focusing directly on high speed, low cost and low latency wireless data delivery is required. Flarion, through its innovative FLASH-OFDM airlink, addresses the challenge of delivering affordable mobile broadband.”

Joe Barrett, EMEA marketing director at Flarion, said that the politics of Flash-OFDM isn’t as sensitive as some people think. “European regulations don’t have the same force as the original GSM Directive, when it comes to 3G,” he told NewsWireless. “In any case, the recommendations on which the contracts were based for 3G have now expired. The contracts do mandate whatever they say, but there’s no regulation requiring that they can’t be varied.”

And, he believes, European legislators are becoming less prescriptive.

“They want to ensure that different bands are used for the purpose intended, but they aren’t insisting on technology any more,” he said.

Flarion site