Monthly Archives: February 2008

Why Chinese mobile phones haven't made it here, yet…

Ever wondered why Korean and Japanese mobile phones made it all the way to Europe and the US but not Chinese phones?

Until recently, the explanation was rather straightforward: Chinese phone manufacturers were not competitive in their domestic market; the market was mostly dominated by a few foreign companies like Nokia, Samsung or Motorola. Chinese companies (Bird or TCL) had a hard time capturing sizeable market shares. Fiercer criticics argued that Chinese manufacturers did not master core mobile phone technologies which resulted in a difficulty to reduce production costs.

This may be about to change! With the commoditization of multimedia features, foreign manufacturers struggle to remain competitive when compared to local vendors. The latter seem also to be more pro-active on the localization aspect (like dual SIM handsets). Competition from local firms (like Huawei or Amoi) even seems to increase in the smartphone and PDA market. For the time being Nokia appears to succesfully fight back whereas Motorola and SonyEricsson are in a more delicate situation.

So, the day when Chinese handset manufacturers have become competitive enough in all segments of their domestic market is nearing. From then on it won’t be too difficult to start attacking US and European markets with cheap and good-quality phones.

P.S.: Chinese telecom equipment supplier ZTE Corp has joined the rank of the world’s top 10 mobile phone makers in 2007, becoming the first Chinese handset marker to attain the honor

Mobile phones in North Korea?

While all eyes are cast on South Korea’s technological progress (mobile TV, broadband penetration), its northern neighbour is showing some signs of technological catching up! According to Chinese-Japanese sources, North Korea plans to lift its ban on the use of mobile phones in April 2008 starting from Pyongyang.

While most other countries in the world, including some of the least democratic, have been keen to join the digital era, North Korea together with Myanmar and its 200’000 mobile phones, have tried to stay away from connectivity. Why now? The North Korean leadership has often acted in leaps and bounds so the lift does not come as a surprise – it may well be reversed in May. Will it change anything? This depends on the number of users who will be allowed to get mobile phones – one just needs to think about the importance of text messaging in Philippine politics.

Who will be the lucky operator allowed to serve the country? Egypt’s Orascom Telecom (a pan-african mobile operator) which entered into a joint-venture agreement with North Korea’s Post and Telecommunications Corp. Even more interesting is the announcement that North will use W-CDMA – a 3G technology used in countries such as South Korea and Japan – which is known to support video calls and high-speed data transmissions. Will free roaming (of the users) come with the mobile plans?

The Holy Mobile Alliance for 4G

China Mobile, Vodafone and Verizon - 700 millions subscribers or one third of the world’s mobile phone users – are getting together to run Long-Term Evolution (LTE) trials. They are expected to focus on  FDD to enable the exploitation of unpaired spectrum globally. In other words, they are working together on the next generation mobile technology (4G) to adopt a harmonised access platform with global scale.

The trial doesn’t really come as a surprise. Vodafone took a share in China Mobile a few years ago and both operators see themselves as global players – China Mobile still lags behind Vodafone on that count. Two things are really interesting: 1) the move comes from carriers and not, as one would expect, from equipment manufacturers, 2) the carriers are present in Asia, Europe and the United States, the most lucrative or fastest-growing markets.

So, is WiMax (a rival 4G standard) losing out? Not quite. It retains strong backing from Intel, Motorola, KDDI and Samsung. More importantly, WiMax is ready for deployment which gives it an 18 month lead on LTE. Will time-to-market dwarf critical mass?

Lift and other presentation(s)

Presentation on “Competing with China in the 21st century” given at the Executives International Forum Dinner (September 27, 2011), Lausanne.

Presentation on China’s ICT policies given at ‘The Asian Rise in ICT R&D – Looking for  Evidence’ – International Conference (February 16–17, 2011), Brussels.

Presentation on mobile telecommunications in China given at LIFT08 (February 7, 2008), Geneva. The video is available here.

Presentation on the Internet in China given at LIFT06 (February 3, 2006), Geneva.

Bloggers Unite!

It all started with the beating to death of a man filming a fight between villagers and local officials in China. The ensuing wave of protest from Chinese bloggers has forced authorities to arrest four people and call an investigation into 100 others.

Sounds like grass-root justice? In fact, such determined social “activism” is still quite uncommon in China (the government spares no effort when it comes to repress unsupportive digital voice). Surprisingly, many people who previously had little interest in politics become active in resisting Internet controls. And the phenomenon doesn’t seem to stop there. Chinese netizens now start complaining when the government blocks Flickr and other popular entertainment sites. One of them even sued a branch of China Telecom for contract violation because of the service provider’s unacknowledged restrictions on Web content. 

So, why are Chinese users becoming more daring? Is it because they have the feeling of having achieved a critical mass (210 million users at the end of 2007) or because the number of simultaneous “battles” (blogs, online videos, instant messaging, etc.) that the Chinese Net censors have to wage opens enough room for dissent?

P.S.: China Internet Network Information Center (a government-run agency surveying Internet users) is predicting that the amount of new blog accounts will drop (!) in the first half year of 2008. Anyone wants to take a bet?

We know who you are, but also where you are…

If something is to be remembered from the World Economic Forum 2008 edition it is probably the very candid comment made by the Wang Jianzhou, the CEO of the world’s largest mobile phone operator.

“We know who you are, but also where you are” was actually meant to convince the audience that China Mobile could use the personal data of its customers to sell advertising and services to them based on knowledge of where they were and what they were doing. Instead it turned into worries about the risk of passing over private information to  Chinese authorities: with more than 370 million subscribers, China Mobile has a real-time ear and eye on 25% of the country’s citizens.

The outcry of congressman Markey (chairman of the US House of Representatives subcommittee on telecommunications) was even more surprising since most national security agencies have so-called signals intelligence collection and analysis networks (like Echelon or Onyx). That said most countries are supposed to have checks and controls in place to make sure that only court orders allow the government to check phone records.

Maybe time has come to look into more details at how the mobile phone is becoming a threat to privacy in all countries!

P.S.: It is quite revealing that the two operators invited to the World Economic Forum’s discussion on “The Future of Mobile Technology” were China Mobile and SK Telecom