News From Telecom World

Archive for March 2009

IF THE father of electromagnetism, Michael Faraday, could be transported into the 21st century, he would no doubt be awestruck by the iPhone. After five hours of tapping its touch-screen to browse the internet, make calls, play games and determine his location via satellite-positioning, he might also find himself a little puzzled. Why, with all the advances in technology and communications, would such a sophisticated device still need to be plugged in to be recharged? If phone calls and web pages can be beamed through the air to portable devices, then why not electrical power, too? It is a question many consumers and device manufacturers have been asking themselves for some time—and one that both new and established technology companies are now hoping to answer.

To seasoned observers of the electronics industry, the promise of wireless recharging sounds depressingly familiar. In 2004 Splashpower, a British technology firm, was citing “very strong” interest from consumer-electronics firms for its wireless charging pad. Based on the principle of electromagnetic induction that Faraday had discovered in the 19th century, the company’s “Splashpad” contained a coil that generated a magnetic field when a current flowed through it. When a mobile device containing a corresponding coil was brought near the pad, the process was reversed as the magnetic field generated a current in the second coil, charging the device’s battery without the use of wires. Unfortunately, although Faraday’s principles of electromagnetic induction have stood the test of time, Splashpower has not—it was declared bankrupt last year without having launched a single product.

Thanks to its simplicity and scalability, electromagnetic induction is still the technology of choice among many of the remaining companies in the wireless-charging arena. But, as Splashpower found, turning the theory into profitable practice is not straightforward. One of the main difficulties for companies has been persuading manufacturers to incorporate charging modules into their devices. But lately there have been some promising developments.

The first is the formation in December 2008 of the Wireless Power Consortium, a body dedicated to establishing a common standard for inductive wireless charging, and thus promoting its adoption. (It is modelled on a similar body that did the same for Bluetooth, a short-range wireless technology that is now found in most mobile phones.) The new consortium’s members include big consumer-electronics firms, such as Philips and Sanyo, as well as Texas Instruments (TI), a chipmaker.

Menno Treffers, chairman of the consortium and director of standardisation at Philips, says universal standards are the single most important requirement for the adoption of wireless charging. Philips is one of the few companies to have commercialised wirelessly charged devices—notably, electric toothbrushes and something it calls an “intimate dual massager”. But Mr Treffers acknowledges that a more collaborative approach is needed to ensure that different devices, such as mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras, can share the same charging equipment.
Charging ahead

Fierce competition between manufacturers of mobile devices is also accelerating the introduction of wireless charging. The star of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, an annual jamboree held in Las Vegas, was the Pre, a snazzy smart-phone from Palm (pictured left). As well as the standard arsenal of technical features—touch-screen, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and built-in camera—the Pre also has an optional charging pad, called the Touchstone, which uses electromagnetic induction to charge the device wirelessly. When the device is placed on the pad, the two recognise each other through built-in sensors. Magnets embedded in the pad align the handset and hold it in place during charging.

Palm was not the only exhibitor in Las Vegas promoting wireless charging. Fulton Innovation, another member of the Wireless Power Consortium and the eventual owner of Splashpower’s assets, used the show to unveil a number of products including an in-car console equipped with inductive coils that can wirelessly charge mobile devices while on the road. (BMW says it will offer its 7 Series cars in South Korea with a wireless-recharging dock for one of Samsung’s handsets.) A modified toolbox from Bosch demonstrated the potential for wirelessly charging power tools.

Other domestic applications in the works include embedding charging pads into kitchen counters to enable the wireless use of blenders and other appliances. Bret Lewis of Fulton Innovation says his firm’s technology could also be used for industrial applications, or to charge electric cars. For the time being, however, the focus is on mobile phones, laptops and other consumer devices, and he sees 2009 as “the year for wireless”. That is probably too ambitious, but a third recent development suggests that the commercialisation of inductive charging may not be far off.

In November 2008 TI announced that it had joined forces with Fulton Innovations “to accelerate development of efficient wireless power solutions”. TI, which provides components to many of the world’s leading mobile-phone makers said it was exploring the production of integrated circuits that supported the technology developed by Fulton Innovations, with the aim of reducing the cost and size of the components needed for wireless charging and making it easier for device-makers to incorporate them into their products quickly.

“From a semiconductor and power-management point of view, wireless charging is a natural extension of what we have been doing,” says Masoud Beheshti, director of battery-charge management at TI. He predicts that, like Bluetooth, wireless charging will initially be offered on high-end devices, before gradually becoming more widely available.

As wireless-charging equipment based on electromagnetic induction heads towards the market, a number of alternative technologies are also being developed to transmit power over both short and long distances. WildCharge, a start-up based in Colorado, has already started selling a number of wireless-charging devices that take a cheaper but simpler approach in which mobile devices make electrical contact with a special charging pad via four small conductive metal studs (pictured).

WildCharge and the licensees of its technology have developed replacement back covers for a number of popular devices, including Motorola’s RAZR phones and video-game controllers for the Nintendo Wii and the Sony PlayStation 3. No matter how the device is plonked down, two of the bumps establish direct electrical contact with the pad. The firm has also developed special “skins” for Blackberry smart-phones, so that they too can be charged without the need for an adaptor. Although it may not have the “wow” factor of inductive coupling, this approach does away with the necessity for a “handshake” between the device and the pad, and with the need to align the device and the pad in a particular way before charging can begin.

At the other end of the spectrum is the idea of long-range transmission of wireless power, which could in principle do away with the need for a charging pad altogether. This technique uses the energy in radio waves, broadcast from a transmitter and harnessed by an antenna, to generate electricity. Using the passive-power principle found in crystal radios, the method has proved successful over short distances in places where it is difficult to replace batteries or carry out maintenance. The problem is that the intensity of the radio waves needed to charge mobile phones and laptop computers over long distances might be hazardous to human health, and regulators would be unlikely to approve.

Nevertheless a firm called Powercast, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has developed wireless-charging products that can do useful things while still operating at safe power levels. Over distances of less than 1.5 metres, its technology can be used to run low-power lighting systems; at a range of up to three metres, the radio waves can provide useful power for trickle-charging rechargeable batteries; and up to about 7.5 metres, they can be used to power wireless sensor networks. The firm talks of providing “milliwatts over metres” and “watts over centimetres”.

Yet another approach is that taken by PowerBeam, a start-up based in Silicon Valley. It uses lasers to beam power from one place to another, but it too faces regulatory difficulties. The firm says the low power-density of its lasers and a series of safeguards ensures that human exposure remains within regulatory limits.

With so many companies working towards wireless power, how long will it be before the cord is finally cut? According to Charles Golvin of Forrester, a consultancy, one of the key considerations is getting manufacturers to abandon a lucrative line of business. He says that many mobile-phone manufacturers use the proprietary connectors on their chargers to retain customers, as people are more likely to buy products for which they already have charging adaptors at home, in the office, or in the car. This may make them reluctant to switch to a common wireless-charging standard. But Mr Colvin thinks strong demand will ensure that wireless technology prevails in the long run.
Peaks and troughs

Stephan Ohr of Gartner, a market-research firm, says the prospects for wireless power are realistic, but the path to widespread adoption will not be as easy as many in the industry expect. New technologies tend to go through a period of “inflated expectations” in which they are hyped, but fail to gain traction. Only after passing through the “trough of disillusionment”, during which expectations return to a more sensible level, are they widely adopted. For wireless charging, Mr Ohr expects this to take three to five years.

But it now seems to be a matter of when, rather than if, wireless charging enters the mainstream. And if those in the field do find themselves languishing in the trough of disillusionment, they could take some encouragement from Faraday himself. He observed that “nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature.” Not even a wirelessly rechargeable iPhone.

Source: economics.com/science

The Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) yesterday (19 Mar ‘09) signed a Tk 280 crore deal with South Korea’s KT Corporation to install the latest internet backbone in a bid to provide high-speed broadband services.

The deal was designed to implement a project titled “Internet Information Network Expansion” for BTCL, which will jointly be financed by the Bangladesh and Korean governments.

Under the deal, KT Corporation will install the internet protocol (IP)-based network for BTCL in six divisions, along with 17 other district towns, in 18 months.

The new backbone primarily will work with BTCL’s existing TDM (time-division multiplexing) network. BTCL now has 40,000 internet connections, run mainly by dial-up connections.

“The project will provide high-speed internet access to the mass,” said Telecommunications Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju at the deal signing ceremony in Dhaka.

He said the initiative is one of many to materialise the present government’s election pledge of a Digital Bangladesh.

The South Korean government is providing Tk 170 crore in loans, of the total Tk 280 crore project, while the remaining will be organised by the Bangladesh government.

SM Khabiruzzaman, managing director of BTCL, and Meang Soo Ho, vice president of KT Corporation, signed the deal on behalf of respective organisations.

Under the project, a total of 17 IP POP (post office protocol) will be set up in different places, connected by an optical fibre network.

BTCL officials said home users can enjoy speeds of up to 256kbps when the network is installed. On the other hand, corporations or business organisations can enjoy speeds of up to 10gb per second.

The Internet Information Network Expansion was taken up by the former BTTB in July 2006, with an execution deadline of June 2009. But a long bidding process delayed execution.

BTCL officials claimed that after commissioning the IP network, the company would be owner of the first ever IP backbone network.

“Gradually, the IP network would be utilised to introduce WiMax,” said a high official of the company. BTCL is planning to adopt WiMax technology to provide wireless broadband services to remote areas, where installation of the optical fibre network would be expensive, he added.

Bangladesh’s broadband market is yet to flourish. Only a million customers are enjoying internet facilities that are mainly provided by local internet service providers and mobile operators.

However mobile operators claimed that they have connected more than four million customers by EDGE technology for internet services.

The state-run Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) was made into a company in July 2008 in a bid to gradually bring the organisation under private management. The present government has already recognised BTCL’s activities in principle, by approving the company’s organogram.

Source: Daily Star

Revenue of Banglalink, the second largest mobile operator in the country, increased by about 50 per cent to US$28.8 million in 2008.

“We have achieved this growth by … launching innovative products,” said Naguib Sawiris, chairman and chief executive officer of Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH), parent company of Banglalink.

The revenue growth was driven by the increase in subscriber base, improved network quality, and usage enhancement initiatives, according to the performance report published by OTH.

The launch of new VAS offerings including music station, healthlink, SME helpline enabled in tapping new revenue streams, the report added.

Banglalink achieved positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $13.7 million mainly as a result of its focus on revenue enhancement and cost optimisation.

Banglalink’s subscriber base reached 10.34 million at the end of 2008, growing 46 per cent over the previous year.

Source: Financial Express

Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH) has reported a 76 drop in full-year net profit to US$431 million, after one-off gains a year ago were stripped out. Excluding the one-offs, which had included the sale of its operations in Indonesia and Iraq, the firm posted a 7 percent rise in its full-year results.

Full-year revenues rose by 13% to US$5.33 billion while net debt stood at US$5.1 billion at the end of the year.

Naguib Sawiris, Chairman and CEO of OTH, commented on the results: “2008 demonstrated the strong resilience of our business in increasingly volatile and challenging global economic conditions. Most of our businesses, with the exception of Pakistan, have achieved their target in terms of growth and profitability. In Pakistan the difficult political, economical and financial conditions combined with the dramatic devaluation of the Pakistani Rupee have negatively impacted the strong performance of the rest of the group.”

Looking ahead, he added: “2009 is a challenging year with economic growth slowing further across the globe. The markets in which OTH operates will suffer from the economic downturn but probably less so than the more mature and developed economies as a result of lower penetration levels and limited fixed-line coverage which will ensure the mobile remains the key communication means for large portions of the population.”

“In 2009, we believe that all our markets, except Pakistan, will continue to show robust performance.”

The total subscribers reached the 78 million mark, up 11% over 2007, driven by strong growth in Egypt, with five million net additions in the year exceeding the 20 million subscriber mark, and Bangladesh, which added over three million customers to reach 10.3 million subscribers.

Pakistan subscriber growth was negative as a result of the combined effect of the adoption of the new 90 day validity regime and stringent registration policies that forced all operators to disconnect those customers that did not register their personal details within the set deadline. The introduction of a service tax on mobile services in Pakistan further reduced market uptake thereby reducing the number of gross additions. Subscriber growth in Algeria in Q4 08 was also negatively impacted by the mandatory disconnection of unidentified customers

Capital expenditures in 2008 were in line with the previous year. In Bangladesh we have continued to invest extensively in the roll-out of the network, while capex in Pakistan was mainly related to capacity and coverage. In Egypt a significant portion of investment was dedicated to the roll-out of the 3G network, which was launched in September. Capex in Algeria in 2008 was lower than the previous year mainly as a result of the time lag between the purchase order cycle and the accounting recognition of the capex.

The firm didn’t reveal any details of the subscriber base in its new North Korean network, save to note that they expect the business to become EBITDA positive in the first year of operation thereby significantly reducing the need to inject equity going forward.

Source: Cellular News

Dhaka Telephone Company Ltd, a public-switched telephone network (PSTN) operator, has introduced a nationwide optical fibre network to ensure smooth operation with clear sound.

“In the last four years we invested about Tk 3.0 billion (300 crore) to provide services to our subscribers most efficiently,” said Md. Haroon Al Atahar, general manager of technical division of the company operating a land phone service under the brand name Dhaka Phone.

An Indian-based company, Tejas Networks, has deployed the network, he said adding, “The company has used TJ100 range of Next Gen-SDH/SONET platforms, specifically for backhauling wireless network.”

“Tejas Networks and its technology have aided Dhaka Phone operator to provide cost-effective services by reducing capital and operational expenditures,” said Mr Haroon.

Dhaka Telephone got its zonal licence in 2005 and nationwide licence in 2007 and has a customer base of 65,000. The tariff rate of the company is Tk 1.5 for every three minutes and for a call to a mobile phone the rate is Tk 0.79 a minute.

The tariff rate cut by Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) has thrown the PSTN operators into a deep trouble as it is difficult for them to offer the BTCL rates, Mr Haroon said.

The country in February saw a total of 1.37 million land phone connections with BTCL being the top with 0.87 million.

Six national, six zonal and one rural PSTN operators have their licences to operate in the country.

Source: Financial Express

TheBangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has assured struggling PSTN operators that it would stop mobile phone companies from cutting off interconnectivity between the two technologies for non-payment of arrears and resolve the problems related to interconnection charges.

The assurance came from a meeting on Monday between BTRC Chairman Zia Ahmed and the Association of PSTN Operators of Bangladesh (APOB), a platform of the country’s dozen public switch telephone network (PSTN) companies.

Battered by huge losses due to a lack of adequate policy interventions, the APOB discussed with the BTRC boss their problems that pile losses on them. “But their immediate concern was a notice from the mobile phone companies that by March 18, they would snap interconnection between them and the PSTN operators for non-payment of arrears,” said a source present at the meeting.

Led by APOB President A Rouf Chowdhury, the PSTN operators argued that the mobile phone companies are taking unrealistic high interconnection charges from them.

In 2004 when the mobile phone call rate was Tk 7 per minute, the interconnection charge with the PSTN companies was only 90 paisa, which was 678 percent lower than the call rate. But now when the mobile call rate came down as low as 25 paisa per minute, the interconnection charge is 40 paisa, which is 38 percent higher than the call rate.

“But if we follow the 2004 tariff ration, the per minute interconnection charge now should be only 3 paisa,” said the meeting source.

APOB also urged the BTRC to waive licence renewal fees, spectrum charge and revenue sharing with BTRC.

It should also review acquisition fees such as fees for share transfer, which should be under the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms and licence transfer fee, as there is no mention of a licence transfer fee in the initial licence.

ABOB also primarily discussed issues related to a unified licence, BTRC/NBR fees and charges, rollout charge, no objection certificates, unrealistic call tariff, business protection to ICX and IIGs, frequency band allocation, infrastructure sharing and zonal licences.

The chairman assured them that all of these issues would be discussed and resolved one by one.

Source: Daily Star

Dialog Telekom’s Q4 08 report provides another example of how mobile telecoms growth in the developing world seems to have defied the economic downturn from a consumer perspective: the Sri Lankan market leader posted a record quarterly gain of 531k, more than 200k higher than its previous best. This took its total customer base past the 5m mark to finish the year on 5.51m. In proportionate terms, quarterly growth stood at 10.7%, the highest figure seen since Q2 06, while annual growth stood at 29.3%. Although this was down from 37.2% in 2007, it remains a strong figure.

The lion’s share of fourth-quarter growth was in the prepaid segment, which added 504k during the quarter to finish the year on 4.86m. It saw annual growth of 31.7% compared to 13.9% for the contract segment, and as a result customer quality was weakened, from 13.4% contract at the end of 2007 to 11.8% contract at the end of 2008. In real terms, the contract customer base stood at 0.65m at the end of 2008.

A glance at the ARPU figures shows that growth came at some cost. Prepaid ARPU fell by 22.6% compared to Q4 07 with a quarterly average of SLR 319 per month. Most of the decline came in the first quarter of 2008, which saw a SLR 53 quarter-on-quarter drop, but Q4 08 also saw a significant fall of SLR 21 compared to the Q3 08 figure. As for contract ARPU, here the Q1 08 drop was even more dramatic at SLR 125. Again, though, the Q4 08 decline was substantial at SLR 63, which took the quarterly average to SLR 1,404 per month. Meanwhile, blended ARPU fell 23.2% to SLR 453 as a result of these declines and the weakened mix.

Sri Lankan consumers may have been unpeturbed by local or global economic circumstances in 2008, but Dialog was not. Despite the strong customer growth, annual revenues grew by just 1.0% to SLR 33,108m. A 48.4% rise in costs saw gross profit down 26.0% to SLR 15,478m, while EBITDA fell 41.6% to SLR 8,370m. Fourth-quarter EBITDA was even worse hit, a massive 75.6% decline taking the figure to SLR 740m from SLR 3,027m in Q4 07. This was partly due to exceptional items, but even on a normalised basis there was a fall of 51.6% to SLR 1,466m.

Source: cellular news



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