Femtocells, FMC, Wi-Fi

There’s an interesting article on femtocells in EETimes. It mentions the Femto Forum. It is a thoughtful look at the prospects for femtocells, a welcome counterbalance to the hype. The most telling quote is from the CTO of Ubiquisys:

We—that is, the femtocell ecosystem—probably have a two-year window to make our mark, ensure we come up with standard interfaces, and, above all, avoid fragmentation.

The two year comment is about beating Wi-Fi dual mode phones to the punch. But currently the primary driver for Wi-Fi in cell phones is feature inflation in high-end handsets, not FMC. In other words, there are really two dynamics driving Wi-Fi into handsets, FMC is the minor one and feature inflation is the major one; femtocells don’t affect the latter.

So if femtocells overcome their numerous challenges, FMC services for consumers will come mainly through femtocells. Femtocells will not impact Wi-Fi attach rate much, since Wi-Fi is becoming a checklist feature on high end phones. How useful the Wi-Fi in these handsets will be depends on how successful the phone makers are at keeping them open.

iPhone activation experience

I sat down with my iPhone and my MacBook, turned on the iPhone and tapped on the screen where it said “Activate iPhone.” The screen went black. Not a good sign.
Then I remembered that the iPhone needs to be plugged in to the PC physically to activate it. This is weird, because one of the things I like best about my MacBook is the way I can just put my Mororola Razr on the desk near it and download photos without any fuss.
So I plugged in the iPhone to the USB and fired up iTunes to do the activation.
Some of the questions were intrusive. It forced me to enter my social security number, also a credit card number for iTunes. I would have preferred to wait until I was ready to buy something from iTunes before giving it credit card info.
The minimum billing I could find was $59.99 a month plus a $36 activation fee for an obligatory 2 years.
This is a $1,536 commitment; add in the $600 for the phone and this toy costs over $2,000.
iTunes showed me my new phone number, and the phone screen said:
“Waiting for AT&T activation. This may take some time.”
This sounded ominous, but within a minute the phone said it was activated.
I made a phone call. Sounded OK.

New York Times tells it like it is

David Pogue, the gadget-maven at the New York Times, went to a cell phone conference in Italy last week, and learned a few home truths.

On Independence Day he wrote a column that lambasted the US cellular carriers for their conservatism, and the following day he eulogized T-Mobile for deploying UMA. The UMA writeup is a PR flack’s dream. All true, too.

In the column on the calcification of the US cellular carriers, he indulged in a bit of wishful thinking:

If the iPhone becomes a hit, then, it could wind up loosening the carriers’ stranglehold on innovation.

Seasoned denizens of this industry may scoff, but it must be possible. And while UMA strives to exploit the VoIP genie while still keeping it in the bottle, at least its another step in the right direction. In the column on UMA, Pogue made a prediction that I happen to agree with:

But hard to believe though it may be, T-Mobile did make an announcement last week. And even harder to believe, its new product may be as game-changing as Apple’s.

The Wall Street Journal has already made the observation that the network operators don’t necessarily have their subscribers best interests at heart. But these two events in the same week may mark some kind of a turning point. I hope they do.

OpenMoko ships Neo 1973

Lost in the iPhone brouhaha was a June 27th announcement about a phone that may turn out to be more revolutionary:

In our factory in China, 400 Neos are waiting… Starting July 9th, we will launch openmoko.com and start taking orders.

400 units sounds laughable compared to the iPhone’s initial run of 6 million. But it is the seed of something that could turn out to be insanely great. Steve Jobs will remember that the initial production run of the Apple I was only 220 units.

The Neo 1973 looks somewhat similar to the iPhone. It has a similar multi-touch screen that has twice the resolution (640×480) of the iPhone, though it is physically smaller.

What is revolutionary is the software business model. The iPhone isn’t even technically a Smart Phone, since it doesn’t support third party applications. The Neo 1973 is Linux-based, it is open source, and you are welcome to modify it to suit your needs.

This is huge for small, vertically oriented ISVs all over the world. While Motorola and other phone makers have already delivered Linux phones, they are notoriously secretive about the APIs, and make it almost impossible to develop tightly integrated applications. With the Neo 1973, ISVs will finally be free to customize a phone for a particular application or vertical market.

The first version shipping in early July will not support Wi-Fi. A revision in October will. This will be a breakthrough device, selling only to enthusiasts and early adopters in 2007, but gaining sales through 2008 as more applications are developed, and as hardware improvements (like faster CPU, larger screen, 802.11n, NFC, more memory, improved battery life, thinner) are made.

User opinions on iPhone begin to appear

As the print reviewers have said, expectations for the iPhone have been built so high that it is bound to disappoint in some respects. And a system this complex is going to have a lot of warts even if it’s 99% insanely great.

Even so, some of the criticisms here show that Steve Jobs’ legendary attention to detail may not be infallible.

The lack of user access to the file system and the slowness of the EDGE network appear to be the major issues. Jobs has kind of addressed both these, saying that applications should reside on servers, and data access should be by Wi-Fi.

A comment on this blog points out that Google Mail is actually more in tune with these suggestions than the built in Mail application.