KaiOS shows why it is critical to Africa’s digital ambition

Working in tandem with Vodacom, KaiOS has brought another smart-feature phone to the market, this time in Tanzania for the remarkable price of $20.

With an install base of 80 million already, the alternative operating system is proving to be a very viable and attractive alternative for the development markets. The latest push forward is in Tanzania, with the $20 Smart Kitochi connected-feature phone, which has sold out already. Vodacom said 5,000 devices were sold in the first four days, while the team is waiting for another shipment to land next week.

The device is built on the MediaTek chipset and powered by the KaiOS operating system, enabling 3G and 4G connectivity, access to a new KaiOS app store and many slimmed-down features which we take as commonplace today.

The emergence of KaiOS, and the enthusiasm of the telcos to embrace a new dynamic, is helping the team tackle a major hurdle for shrinking the digital divide in Africa; affordability of internet connected devices.

When you consider the monthly take home salary of an individual in Africa could be as little as $100, the internet becomes an unachievable dream. Who can spare money to invest in a smartphone when you have to pay the rent and feed your family? This is where KaiOS fits into the equation; it has driven the creation of an ecosystem to manufacture feature phones with 3G and 4G connectivity features. It is a compromise. A no-frills device which allows some of the world’s poorest individuals to benefit from the digital economy.

What is worth noting is this is not a direct threat to the dominance of Android in the operating system segment. KaiOS should be seen as complementary to Google’s efforts.

Firstly, what is always worth bearing in mind is that Google is a KaiOS investor. It was one of the four companies which funnelled cash into the business to drive development in the early years.

Secondly, Google services will continue to run on KaiOS devices. The team has no intention to create alternative products in-house, such as mapping or messaging features. Although it is a different operating system, the more successful KaiOS is, the more exposure Google products get.

Finally, the monetization model at KaiOS is completely different to Android. Whereas the Google team drive revenues by placing products as default applications on Android devices, KaiOS generates cash through revenue sharing models and commission earned through in-app purchases.

Like Android, KaiOS is free of license fees for the telcos, an important aspect of the model. As soon as licensing fees are introduced, there is a risk of telcos charging more for the devices, which will lead to a smaller install base for KaiOS. Charging licensing fees would undermine the very concept of the business.

Google has once again invested very intelligently. To drive future revenues, Google needs to gain exposure to more individuals. Unfortunately, Android is a smartphone OS and not entirely applicable to the developing markets. It could be re-imagined, but then again it might be much more efficient to simply invest in a company which can specifically build an OS for smart feature phones. The slimmed down version of Android looks to be living on limited time and it would not be surprising to see the OS culled.

With more and more affordable devices flooding onto the market, more people are taking into the digital economy. If KaiOS continues to grow its user base, Google’s products such as Maps and YouTube, which are installed as default on the devices, are used by more people. By investing in KaiOS, Google has gained an extra 80 million customers, and these are still the early days.

KaiOS has already launched in several markets, though India is the most successful to date. In partnership with Reliance Jio, the Jio phone has proven to be very popular allowing KaiOS to surpass Apple iOS as the second most common OS in the market. There will be launches in the near future, but this all depends on the appetite of the telcos.

KaiOS highlighted during a press conference that it is the telcos who decide future launches, as they have the retail presence to push the smart-feature devices out to the market. Although handing over control to a third-party is not the most comfortable position to be in, there is drive from the telcos.

If the telcos are going to secure additional revenues, they will need more people to be connected. Device affordability is one of the biggest challenges to connect the unconnected, so expect to see some aggressive moves forward with new device launches. Vodacom is a very good partner for KaiOS, with the telco maintaining a presence in 32 African nations.

Connecting the unconnected is still a monumental challenge in African, though the creation and aggressive deployment of new ideas is generating momentum. Underpinning all of this success is the emergence of affordable, internet-connected devices, and an operating system which is perfectly designed for the unique connectivity landscape in Africa. KaiOS has a very bright future and the importance of this business should never be undervalued.

Smartphone market finally expected to grow again in 2020

After years of misery, decline and shrinking profits, IDC is estimating the smartphone market might actually grow in 2020 thanks to 5G.

The 4G era produced a boom in technology adoption few would have predicted, though the years which followed were slightly less profitable. Since 2017, worldwide shipments of smartphones have been in decline, though it does seem the 5G buzz is living up to its reputation in at least one area.

Shipments are forecast to decline slightly over the remainder of 2019, however IDC is estimating year-on-year growth of 1.6% in 2020.

“The anticipation of 5G, beginning with smartphones, has been building for quite some time but the challenges within the smartphone market over the past three years have magnified that anticipation,” said Ryan Reith of IDC.

“To be clear, we don’t think 5G will be the savior in smartphones, but we do see it as a critical evolution in mobile technology. We expect the 5G ramp on smartphones to be more subtle than what we saw with 4G, but that is primarily because we are in a much different market today.”

The growth numbers are not as revolutionary as a decade ago, but they are certainly more palatable than another year of contraction.

2019 is proving to be another tough year for the smartphone manufacturers, IDC expects a year-on-year decline of 2.2% for the 12 months, though there are some glimmers of hope. Not only are 4G networks scaling in some developing markets opening-up a new window of opportunity for 4G handset sales, but the up-coming 5G euphoria creates an entirely new refreshment cycle in the developed markets.

This is something smartphone manufacturers and telcos have been looking forward to for years.

In the developed markets, as soon as smartphone penetration exceeded 100% of a country’s population, there was always going to be a struggle. Incremental improvements in terms of storage capacity, camera performance or software features, carried momentum for a period, but the decline of smartphone shipments was perhaps largely down to a lack of innovation.

Consumers are being asked to pay more for new devices, but without the attraction of innovation it becomes difficult to tolerate these purchases every year. A new camera is fine, but if it is only marginally better than the one you already have, does that justify the expenditure? Clearly it doesn’t as 2019 becomes the third-year straight for shipment declines.

This is what 5G offers manufacturers and telcos; something genuinely different to talk to consumers about and rationalise the process of purchasing a new device. It does something previous generations of devices do not.

Of course, despite the coverage limitations of 5G networks, the advertising campaigns are already in full swing, but who will be the winners and losers?

Samsung was one of the first leading brands out of the gate, and alongside Xiaomi, it could benefit significantly from the woes of Huawei. 12 months ago, we were contemplating if Huawei could overhaul Samsung and take the global market share lead, though a lot has changed during that period.

Huawei looks in a very suspect position currently. Its supply chain currently looks in a precarious position, and while this will not threaten the existence of the brand, it might lead some to question the quality of the end-product. US suppliers can be replaced, but can Huawei seek alternatives which can fulfil the same order quantities reliably, and will the components perform as well as those offered by incumbent suppliers?

One of the most interesting developments here concerns Google, its mobile applications and its Android operating system. Last week, both Google and Huawei confirmed the new Mate 30 will be shipped without the Google applications. There might be a workaround, though should the trade conflict between China and the US continue, Huawei will be forced to use its own Harmony OS.

This presents problems on two fronts. Firstly, will Android fan boys trust the unknown of a new operating system. And secondly, how much reputational damage has been done to Chinese brands by the White House; will consumers trust a Chinese brand without the middle man of a US operating system?

These are the unknowns, but the early signs do not look promising for Huawei. Research from Canalys suggests Huawei smartphone shipments in Western Europe during the most recent quarter has declined by 16% after President Trump dragged the brand through the mud, though there is an upshot for both Xiaomi and Samsung, who increased shipments 48% and 20% respectively.

Another brand which might suffer at the beginning of the 5G era is Apple.

“A lack of 5G support in the new iPhone won’t surprise anyone, though it will still disappoint operators looking for 5G devices to help them drive traffic to new 5G networks,” said Peter Jarich, Head of GSMA Intelligence.

“At the same time, new features that are expected – improved camera functionality, improved processor, upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 – may all seem incremental rather than revolutionary, particularly if the product line and form factor line-ups remain relatively constant.”

Apple has a very loyal customer base, while the closed-ecosystem has forced loyalty upon others. However, Apple will be testing the limits of loyalty. 5G will be plastered on every wall, each advert and on the lips of every consumer before too long. Apple will have to be confident it can convince customers to delay the purchase of a 5G device until it is ready to launch its own, otherwise it could risk losing those customers to the Android ecosystem permanently.

Looking at the IDC forecasts, iPhone shipments are expected to decline 14.8% year-on-year, due to market maturity and a lack of 5G-compatible device. When the firm does deliver its 5G device in 2020, it will have to prove it is better than rivals to justify the delay in delivery, otherwise the precious brand could be damaged.

This is not new from Apple. This is a company which doesn’t necessarily want to be the first to market, but it does invest heavily to be the best. It will have to do the same once again.

What is also worth noting, is this is just the beginning of the 5G era. A swing back to growth in 2020 for year-on-year smartphone shipments is encouraging, however the momentum will have to be compounded and the only way to do this is through the development of an ecosystem, applications and broader usecases.

Right now, the telcos and the ecosystem are only really talking about one thing; speed. If you believe the hype, 5G is going to be between ten and a hundred times faster than 4G. This might sound good as an advertising tagline, but a continued focus on speeds will become tiresome. Consumers will realise the excess speed is redundant soon enough, and this is another path which takes the telcos towards commoditisation.

More interesting usecases for 5G will have to emerge, and some of them will be reliant on improvements realised for latency.

Gaming is one area which is becoming increasingly dominated by mobile, and the more comfortable people are using higher volumes of data on the move, the greater this dominance will become. Lower latency will certainly help the case here, as more real-time gaming experiences become palatable.

The connected car is another development where 5G and lower latency could add to the momentum. Right now, the usecases are simplistic, though incremental gains in the connectivity world are improving the prospects for entertainment providers and application developers in the car. And we haven’t even mentioned the dreaded ‘autonomous’ tag this time around.

Of course, when you are talking about an entirely new generation of connectivity, you have to talk about the unknown. Perhaps the most exciting applications are the ones we mere mortals will struggle to imagine today. Uber is a perfect example.

Uber seems like the simplest idea today, but no-one else thought of the idea until Travis Kalanick. This is an application which was only possible because of 4G and the mass adoption of mobile internet, which makes us wonder what is in the pipeline. There will be blue sky thinkers who have an idea, but it can’t be validated or tested until 5G is scaled. This is when 5G devices could genuinely accelerate.

Marginal growth is all well and good for the moment, though the ecosystem will drive the next generation of profits. Having a snazzy new phone is fine for the early adopters and tech enthusiasts, but when the normmies start seeing how much more can be done through a 5G device, interest will scale much faster.

This is an area which is of course very difficult to quantify; what is the awareness of 5G in the consumer segments, and how much do they actually care?

According to research from Ericsson, half of smartphone users in South Korea and Australia, as well as 40% in the US, claim they do not have fast enough mobile broadband connections. Those who live in the big cities around the world will also be familiar with the challenge of network congestion, offering another buy-in for 5G contracts. Respondents to the survey said they would be prepared to pay 20% more on average to realise the benefits of 5G. Those who are more familiar with the concept of 5G, said they would tolerate a 32% increase in prices.

Of course, these projections are largely meaningless unless there is proof of accuracy. That said, in South Korea SK Telecom is claiming to have secured 1 million 5G postpaid subscriptions in the first four months of network operations. This represents 3.5% of the total subscribers at the telco, demonstrating there is an appetite for the new generation of mobile connectivity.

There is clearly an appetite for 5G connectivity, and should the manufacturers be able to produce a product which is tolerable for the consumers, there could be profits sooner rather than later.

“Solid push of 5G smartphones by the mobile operators in China in 2020 will drive economies of scale for the phone makers, and we will see the prices of these devices globally slide down to much more acceptable levels from their current highs,” said VP of Forecasting at CCS Insight, Marina Koytcheva.

“5G will not drive everyone to the shops in a search for a new phone, but for a group of technology enthusiasts- early adopters of all things tech- the new generation of mobile technology will act as a catalyst for replacing their current smartphones.”

This is an awkward challenge which the manufacturers will face; pricing. Smartphones are eye-wateringly expensive nowadays, perhaps a contributor to the shipments decline, and 5G devices are likely to see another premium added onto the tag.

This will at least be the challenge in penetrating the smartphone market in the early days, though Koytcheva is a bit more confident than IDC. CCS Insight are suggesting shipments could increase by 3% year-on-year over the next twelve months. This number will account for 4G devices in increasingly digitised developing markets, though 5G will add impetus in the developed nations.

But the challenge still remains; if 5G smartphones are going to anywhere near replicate the success of 4G predecessors, economy of scale in manufacturing operations will have to be achieved.

We suspect, and many others do also, that 5G devices will not take the world by storm in the same way 4G devices did. The transition from 3G to 4G was much more dramatic in the consumer world than the current transition we are anticipating today. The long-tail of applications and network evolution might be greater, but the up-front glories will not necessarily be the same.

That said, even if it is marginal year-on-year growth for smartphone shipments, that is a lot better than a fourth consecutive year of contraction.

HMD Global joins the 5G surge with new Nokia phone

HMD Global is the latest to join the surge in device manufacturers to enter the 5G fray, with the Nokia brand set to deliver a more reasonably-priced device.

Although Apple is steering clear of the surge to capture the attention of early adopters, it does traditionally like to take its time, HMD Global will attempt to cut through the 5G noise with its Nokia-branded device. And like its previous device launches, the phone will be cheaper than others on the market.

According to Digital Trends, HMD Global’s device will be launched in 2020, aiming to cost roughly half of what is available on the market. Although that statement does leave some wiggle-room, it might attract attention from the more cash-conscious consumer.

Device Cost
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G $1,299
Huawei Mate X $2,600 (unconfirmed)
LG V50 ThinQ 5G $1,152
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G c.£550-650
Oppo Reno 5G $835
Apple ??? but presumably it will be eye-watering expensive to bleed the iLifers dry

There is an opportunity to undercut the market on price, but it will have to compete on performance. Like anything in the technology world, performance is becoming increasingly important. Will the HMD Global device dance good? Can it take home the trophy?

“We see a particular opportunity for us in bringing 5G to a more affordable segment as we enter the market,” said Juho Sarvikas, Chief Product Officer for HMD in the Digital Trends interview. “I would say affordable in relation to what’s available today. I would love to see us at half of the price where you have 5G today.”

Of course, it matters very little how many people have the devices unless there are the networks to support them, however, as 5G becomes more of a reality it is important all demographics are catered for. Currently, 5G looks like a product designed for the wealthy. There might be more accessible data tariffs hitting the market, but the devices remain out of the financial reach of many.

HMD has built a reputation on capturing attention through nostalgia, though the launch of smartphones in recent months is taking the firm into what more would consider the norm of today. If HMD Global can manage to product a product which performs to the expectations of today’s consumer, while also being friendlier to the wallet, it could be a game-changer.

Interestingly enough, this could present a new challenge to the telcos; an over-subscription on the 5G networks.

This is a challenge which was faced at the beginning of the 4G era. Because the service was so much better than internet services offered before, adoption of 4G was incredibly rapid. One would hope network loading is a consideration of the telcos, assuming lessons have been learnt, however they might have believed there would be a bit more breathing room.

This is a difficult equation to balance, though it will be needed to ensure a mass rollout of 5G. This pricing disruption might be coming sooner than many of the mainstream device manufacturers were hoping for.

LG doubles-down on gaming and entertainment with K-Series launch

With IFA just around the corner, it would be fair to assume a tsunami of consumer devices launches are on the horizon, and here, LG has kicked-off its own efforts.

The mid-range K50S and K40S smartphones will be available for consumers in Europe, LATAM and Asia to purchase in October, and it appears LG is continuing its quest to find a niche in the gaming and entertainment world.

“These new K series devices offer an optimized multimedia experience that are competitive with the best smartphones in the price range,” said Morris Lee, SVP of mobile communications at LG. “With enhanced screens and more versatile cameras, the K50S and K40S represent exceptional value that demonstrate LG’s commitment to putting consumers’ needs first.”

The devices themselves bring larger screens than previous models, 6.5-inch for K50S and 6.1-inch for K40S, as well as a shift in the placement of the front-facing camera to maximise real-estate. New audio components have been introduced with DTS:X 3D Surround Sound, while a 4,000mAh battery for the K50S and 3,500mAh for K40S will offer extended usage. Both devices run on the latest Android OS, Pie.

Looking at the chipset, both models will incorporate 2.0 GHz Octa-Core, promised to enable smartphones to carry out more advanced tasks such as handling high resolution videos and graphic-heavy games without draining the battery, making the devices capable and efficient.

Gaining attention from today’s consumer can be a tricky task, and while other manufacturers largely seem to be focusing on narcissism with advanced cameras and AR features, LG appears to be focusing more acutely on gaming and the consumption of content.

We have already been treated to this strategy at EEs 5G launch back in May, when Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin showed us the 5G prototype device. The product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with the option to clip the smartphone into a separate model, adding a second screen. The screens work independently, allowing for two applications to be run simultaneously, or potentially together with the bottom screen acting as a controller for games.

This is strategy which appears to be spread throughout the portfolio, and it is a smart idea.

Gaming is one of the fastest growing markets in the digital economy, and with the emergence of more cloud gaming platforms such as Google Stadia or Nvidia GeForce NOW, accessibility will also increase. A recent report from PwC suggests the German gaming market will grow by 5.2% a year between 2019 and 2023, though this seems to be moderate growth in comparison to other markets.

Research from GlobalData suggested the globally the video games market generated $131 billion, though this could increase to $300 billion by 2025. The surge in growth will be led by smartphone gaming, though as the newly emerging cloud gaming platforms are somewhat of an unknown entity, who knows what the actual figure will be.

On the entertainment front, there is no secret consumers like to watch content on their smartphones, but again, this is becoming increasingly accessible thanks to larger data tariffs and improved wifi in public spaces.

LG will have to do a lot to cut through the noise considering the massive marketing budgets of its rivals but craving a niche in the gaming and entertainment arena is certainly a smart move.

5G devices pass 100 mark – GSA

The number of devices now available to 5G enthusiasts has now passed the 100 milestone, demonstrating how quickly 5G is being thrust onto the world.

The hype surrounding 5G cannot be under-played currently. Not only do you have numerous telcos bragging about the speeds available directly below one of the very few 5G cell sites around the country, the devices manufacturers are starting to join the race.

According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association, GSA, as of August 1 there are 100 identifiable devices which are compatible with the 5G connectivity euphoria. In comparison to 4G, not only are 5G networks being deployed much quicker, the devices are much more readily available. For those who suggest consumer and enterprise adoption will be quicker as well, such reports from the GSA will add a lot of credibility.

Looking at the list, 26 smartphones have been identified, nine of which are now commercially available, while eight hotspots (three commercially available) have been clocked and 26 CPE devices (eight commercially available). The commercially available devices might be expensive for the moment, however when more hit the market we suspect a price war might start to emerge as well as more mid-range devices.

Outside of the devices mentioned above, 28 modules are ready, two snap-on dongles, two routers, two IOT routers, two drones, one laptop, one switch, one USB terminal and one robot. There certainly is a wide variety of products available for everyone and anyone looking to get their 5G fix.

What is worth noting is this is only the beginning. 100 devices before a scaled rollout might seem like a lot, but consider the IOT promise in the 5G world, there will soon enough be thousands of different devices for all the different, ridiculous and unimaginable use cases which will be presented.

UK Transport Committee questions safety of hands-free

A UK Department of Transport Committee has released a report demanding the use of mobile phones, including hands-free features, be banned while driving.

Quoting research which suggests traffic collisions where mobile phones contributed resulted in 773 casualties, including 43 deaths, in 2017, the Committee is calling for tighter rules and regulations for mobile devices while driving. Hands-free features have also been targeted, with the Committee claiming the safety benefits are misleading.

“Despite the real risk of catastrophic consequences for themselves, their passengers and other road users, far too many drivers continue to break the law by using hand-held mobile phones,” said Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Lilian Greenwood.

“There is also a misleading impression that hands-free use is safe. The reality is that any use of a phone distracts from a driver’s ability to pay full attention and the Government should consider extending the ban to reflect this.”

Although it is quite clearly more dangerous to use a mobile device while driving, a bit of common sense needs to be applied here. If a driver is using the full hands-free capabilities of the phone, in the sense said driver only interacts with the device using the voice interface, exceptions should be written into any rule changes.

Looking at the hands-free features of the phone, is this anymore distracting that listening to the radio or having a conversation with the person in the passenger seat? Perhaps an enforceable screen-lock should be introduced to ensure the driver is not tempted to make use of other features while in the car, but banning voice interactions with the device should surely mean the driver should be banned from having a conversation with passengers?

This is perhaps what the misleading nature of hands-free is; users are not making use of the entire suite of features. If the user has to tap the screen to accept a call or scroll through contacts to make a phone call, if is clearly distracting. However, there is no reason the user would have to take their eyes off the road if all hands-free features are being used.

Interestingly enough, your correspondent did a quite test to see how easy it was to do to operate hands-free.

Davies: OK Google, send a text to Dad

Google Assistant: For that, you’ll need to unlock your phone

Davies: OK Google, search for directions to Cardiff Castle

Google Assistant: The best way to Cardiff Castle is…

This is where the issue might lie. If unlocking the phone is a requirement to make use of hands-free features, it pretty much undermines the benefits. It’s not every feature which requires the device to be unlocked, however these are communication devices. This is quite an oversight, and while there will be changes to the settings which can be made, it is not the promise which has been relayed to the consumer through advertising.

The Committee is absolutely correct that rules have to be tightened up. Two weeks ago, a White Van Man managed to argue against a traffic violation as he was reportedly using the video function on the phone while driving. To break the rules today, data has to be sent or received from the phone while driving. This is a grey area which of course should be corrected.

However, an outright ban on smartphone usage, which is being called for here, is an incorrect approach to future-proofing rules and regulations for the digital economy.

Speaking to BBC Radio Two, Greenwood has suggested the best approach would be to put a mobile phone in the boot prior to beginning driving. However, this would be incredibly difficult for those who rely on a smartphone for work. Take delivery drivers, for example, who need to find out about the next job, or taxi drivers who need accurate navigation applications. What about paramedics or police who have to be engaged with a radio constantly?

A spokesperson from the RAC has countered Greenwood’s point, suggesting police should focus on enforcing current laws instead of creating new ones. Research suggests enforcement of laws focused on using mobile devices has dropped by two-thirds since 2017. The RAC spokesperson suggests these new laws are going too far.

In reality both are correct. Greenwood is right in suggesting current laws are not stringent enough, they were largely written in 2003 when a mobile device was a completely different product, though banning devices completely is unreasonable. There are considerable benefits to using a smartphone while driving, assuming the user is making proper use of hands-free features and engaged with the road.

What you have to consider here, and we suspect Greenwood has not, is the ‘law of unintended consequences’. Mobile nurses won’t be able to do their jobs properly and surely if talking to someone on the phone using hands-free is dangerous, singing along to the radio or talking to a passenger is exactly the same? The law has to be consistent. It is still a distraction, but no-one is considering banning having children in the backseat.

If people use the hands-free features correctly, there is no difference from the distractions people face today. Perhaps the focus should be on tackling misleading claims, introducing screen locks while driving, forcing drivers to make use of built-in Bluetooth features and improving the application of the voice interface.

Regulation for the sake of regulation is always a dangerous game to play, but it is often the outcome when technology-illiterate individuals, with little understanding or consideration of the future, are in-charge of making the rules.

Skyworks financials reveal the cost of working with Huawei

Mobile chip maker Skyworks solutions has released its financial results for the third quarter of 2019, with a $127 million hole in comparison to the same period of 2018.

In most circumstances, a 16% drop in revenues for a three-month period would send the office into meltdown. Executives and shareholders will of course not be thrilled, but this downturn was expected by pretty much everyone involved; this is the cost of doing business with Huawei.

As you can see from the table below, there are certainly some numbers which will cause a persistent twitch.

Q3 2019 Q2 2018
Net revenue $767 million $894.3 million
Gross profit $312.5 million $442.7 million
Net income $144.1 million $286.5 million
Earnings per share (Basic) $0.83 $1.58

What is worth noting is that there are factors contributing to this downturn outside the Huawei saga. Semiconductor sales across the world are in a trough currently, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) unveiled quarterly figures earlier this week, with the global smartphone shipments impacting financials everywhere.

Perhaps due to a lack of innovation in the smartphone arena or consumers afraid of purchasing new devices with a new ‘G’ on the horizon, shipments have declined. History suggests this is cycler, though the depressed states of affairs can also be contributed to Huawei business.

Skyworks solutions is one of those businesses which is in a somewhat difficult position. There might a brief reprieve for those working with Huawei, though the damage has clearly been done.

In entering Huawei onto the Entity List, effectively banning any US company from working with the Chinese vendor, President Trump released a wave of collateral damage. Skyworks was not one of the worst effected, though as you can see there clearly is friendly fire from the White House.

During last years Annual Report, Skyworks told investors Huawei was one of three firms which accounted for more than 10% of annual revenues. With a third of generated revenues being attributed to three companies, this is not the healthiest position, but in the smartphone segment it is largely unavoidable; there aren’t than many manufacturers after all.

Interestingly enough, while the firm did beat market expectations, this does not seem to have diluted fears from investors.

The management team has greenlit a 16% increase of dividend payments, while there is hope it might be able to continue work with Huawei, but investors are seemingly voting with their feet. At the time of writing, share price declined by almost 7.4% in overnight trading.

This is not a firm which will cease to exist because of these negative events, however it is wounded right now. Huawei is a massive customer for the team and an account which was only getting more profitable as Huawei grew its global smartphone market share. This is not the beginning of the end, but it doesn’t make for the most comfortable reading.

Telcos aren’t the only ones to blame for poor mobile experience

We’ve all experienced this frustration. Maybe its ordering an Uber, downloading a document or doing online banking, only for poor performance to be the buzzkill. But what if the telcos aren’t to blame?

When you are down the pub and jealously looking over at the streaming power your mate’s device can conjure, the first question is always the same; who is your contract provider? This usually leads to a moan about one telco being terrible, but they are cheaper, so it’s not the end of the world. Now, some telcos are certainly better at delivering performance than others, but it is not the only factor which should be considered.

This is not to say the telcos are completely blameless, farmers will back you up here, but a new report from Openreach suggests there is quite a notable variance between the performance of each of the device manufacturers when the smartphones are out in the wild.

“All smartphones are not created equal,” Ian Fogg, Opensignal’s VP of Analysis, wrote in the report. “Just as different smartphones offer a variety of camera qualities or screen sizes, they also differ in the network communication features which enable faster download speeds and smoother video streaming.”

Using 117.8 billion measurements from 23.3 million devices between April 1 and June 30 , Opensignal has produced a critique of the top three smartphone manufacturers across a broad range of different nations.

The table below is only a snippet of the research, but it paints an interesting picture:

Country Samsung Apple Huawei
Norway 58 Mbps 44 Mbps 46 Mbps
Switzerland 44 Mbps 45 Mbps 38 Mbps
UAE 32 Mbps 47 Mbps 27 Mbps
UK 25 Mbps 20 Mbps 25 Mbps
USA 28 Mbps 20 Mbps 17 Mbps
Spain 29 Mbps 26 Mbps 26 Mbps
South Africa 19 Mbps 18 Mbps 16 Mbps
India 9 Mbps 7 Mbps 9 Mbps

Across the 40 countries which were included in the research, Samsung’s devices were the fastest on average in 14 of the countries, Apple was fastest in 7. In the remaining 21, there was a tie for the fastest average device speed. Huawei was not a standalone winner anywhere, though it was joint fastest in 7.

Interestingly enough, in some of the markets where Apple is the leader in terms of market share, it is not the best performing provider. In the US, Samsung lead the way in terms of average download speeds by quite a margin, and it also fell in second place in Japan. Australia is another market where the iLeader came up short.

As mentioned before, the telcos are not innocent when it comes to poor performance. Congestion on individual mobile sites, network architecture, line of sight and numerous other factors slow download speeds, but we suspect few people will blame their devices. Another interesting factor is the amount which has been spent on the device in the first place.

Opensignal Device Grpahic

As you can see from the graphic above, the difference between high-, mid- and low-end devices is very notable. Many will accept there are differences between the different tiers of devices will offer different performance when they actually think about it, however, the cynic in all of us will simply believe the manufacturers are attempting to bleed as much cash out of customers for additional bells and whistles.

The difference between the tiers is down to exactly the same reason for the difference between the device manufacturers themselves. Devices will have different chipsets, or antenna, or will be able to connect to more frequency bands, there are 40 different bands in use for 4G after all. Different manufacturers will use different components, but then a manufacturer will use different quality components across a range of devices depending on how much it plans to charge for the specific device.

Moving forward, when latency becomes more of a factor, this is another area which could see more variance.

Latency is often discussed today, and while there are few usecases for the moment, this is an area which will continue to develop over the coming years. Release 16 from 3GPP should improve these metrics and drive the creation of new business cases. Soon enough there might be more justification for ludicrously expensive flagship devices outside the realms of bells and whistles.

Opensignal Latency Grpahic

An interesting question for Apple customers will be the performance of the devices in the future. Over the last few years, Apple has been moving more of its supply chain in-house, attempting to remove any reliance on external partners. The recent purchase of Intel’s smartphone chip business unit is an excellent example.

Apple is a company which excels at a lot of things, but the hardcore engineering of components is not one of them right now. The leader in the modem field is arguably Qualcomm, though considering the turbulent relationship between the two over the last two years, it would surprise few to see a permanent end to it. What impact this has on the performance of the iPhone remains to be seen.

Huawei is another which could be skating on thin ice. Similar to Apple, the Chinese giant has moved more activities to its own components business, HiSilicon, though it is still reliant on external partners in certain areas. A number of these suppliers are from the US, painting an unpleasant picture while it remains on the Entity List, banned from purchasing some critical components.

Corning is one supplier to Huawei, however finding another company to supply the cover glass will be a simple job. When it comes to the highly-specialised semiconductor manufacturers, one of the areas the US excels globally, it becomes a bit more difficult. The likes of Qualcomm, Skyworks Solutions, Micron, Qorvo and NeoPhotonics would have been selected for a reason. There will be alternatives, but you have to wonder whether this will impact performance.

The technology industry is going through an interesting time at the moment, and depending on who you work for, that is either very good or very bad. With the growth of the voice interface and emerging technologies such as AR set to play a bigger role in the future, devices could look and feel incredibly different in a few years.

Interestingly enough, consumers don’t seem to purchase devices based on the performance offered. This might be down to the assumption performance is entirely driven by the telcos, or perhaps consumers do not understand the complexities. Maybe this will change in the future, but it could certainly be a selling-factor for some manufacturers if the consumer actually understands the language, numbers and acronyms.

There will be new factors to consider when purchasing or even using a device, but when things do go wrong, blaming the telcos for poor performance might not be the most complete assumption.

White Van Man set to cause chaos with smartphone driving rules

A North London builder has potentially opened Pandora’s box after successfully challenging a conviction for using a smartphone while driving.

On 20th July 2018, Ramsey Barreto was found guilty of using his smartphone while driving his VW Caravelle along Field End Road in Ruislip, filming a traffic incident. The case seemed to be a relatively simple one as there is video evidence of the crime, though Barreto’s lawyers have successfully overturned the conviction in the High Courts, as he was using the video function of the device not the communication components.

This might sound like somewhat of a humorous incident with ‘The Man’ ending-up on the losing side for once, but case could see hundreds of challenges to previous convictions for similar offenses.

“The legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving. It prohibits driving while using a mobile phone or other device for calls and other interactive communication,” said Lord Justice Gross of the Court of Appeal.

This ruling does not necessarily mean Barreto is off-the-hook, as Lord Justice Gross noted in his opinion that using a smartphone while driving can still be presented as careless or dangerous driving, but Barreto cannot be convicted through Section 41D of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations 1986.

This is where is gets complicated and mere mortals who have not studied the intricacies of the law will find themselves in a bit of bother. The legislation is very specific, and this is where Barreto’s lawyers have found adequate wiggle room.

In Regulation 110, Section 4, a handheld mobile device is described as one which ‘performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data’. In Section 6, the device can be treated as a mobile telephone if it is ‘making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communications function’.

The fact Barreto was using his smartphone is not being disputed here. A police officer at the scene of the incident saw and confronted Barreto for holding his smartphone up to the window of the vehicle for ’10 to 15 seconds’. The lawyers have argued there is nothing specifically mentioned in the law that prevents a driver from using a device for its other functions outside of phone calls and messaging. As he was making a video, he has not broken the laws which the prosecution pointed to during the original trial.

This is where the UK, and everyone else for that matter, has been struggling in the digital economy; rules and regulations have been written for a by-gone era. In this instance, the rules were written in 2003 when mobile devices did little more than make calls and texts. There are no specific clauses or sections which address the functionality incorporated in the devices during the subsequent 16 years.

Laws are very complicated to understand because of the complex manner in which they are written. This is perfectly understandable, as there needs to be as little grey areas as possible when applying the law. In practice, the specificity of laws allows for certain individuals to escape conviction, though the only other option would be to make the language more nuanced and present a much greater risk of abuse.

The issue which we are facing in the UK right now is that of dated regulation and legislation. Many of the rules were written during the early 00s, or in some cases the 90s, and these act as the building blocks of todays legislative and regulatory landscape. Think about how much the world and technology has changed over the last five years, let alone the last two decades. Anything written back then should be considered pre-historic.

Although it is a lot easier said than done, many of the rules which govern the UK need a revamp to ensure they are fit-for-purpose in the digital economy. Technology is infiltrated every aspect of our lives, from communications to privacy, through to banking and healthcare. If legislation and regulation does not reflect the evolving nature of technology, its features and applications in society, it is not serving its purpose.

Now the big question which remains is how many more drivers will appeal their own case using this ruling as precedent.

Apple eyeing up $1bn Intel smartphone chip purchase – sources

Reports emerged about Apple’s interest in Intel’s smartphone modem business a few weeks back, and now the rumour mill is back up-and-running as more sources suggest conversations.

According to The Washington Post, a deal worth $1 billion, including various patents and staff, is entering advanced talks. Apple has always been a business which wants to control its ecosystem and such a deal would take it one step closer to developing critical components for its devices.

Although the Intel smartphone business unit has been viewed as somewhat of a failure in recent years, it is certainly more developed than Apple’s in-house capabilities. This is an area which is a significant focus for Apple and incorporating the Intel smartphone business into its own operations could help save it years of development work.

This is of course not the first push into the semiconductor world by Apple. Not only has it announced plans to open a 1,200-strong research facility in San Diego, but it effectively ended its relationship with GPU firm Imagination Technologies in 2017. Apple said it would begin to phase out Imagination Technologies in favour of its own GPU components.

For Apple, this seems like a logical move considering the squeeze which is being placed on smartphone manufacturers worldwide. There are several reasons smartphone shipments are declining year-on-year, but the increasing price is certainly a powerful factor.

The iPhone has consistently underpinned profits at Apple, though the global slowdown and challenge to market share from Chinese brands threaten this. Apple is regularly being undercut by rivals, while entry into new markets such as India has been challenging because of the price of devices. Owning more elements of the supply chain, especially components, can help the iLeader reduce the price of handsets and become more competitive in the era of innovation mediocrity.

This is also a slight change in mentality when it comes to Apple’s acquisition strategy. Rarely does the iChief go for the big-ticket acquisitions, preferring to swallow up smaller providers in pursuit of innovation, but it does appear context is ruling above in this instance, assuming the reports are true of course.

For Intel, this would appear to be a very satisfactory exit from a challenging segment. Although the team has always had ambitions in the smartphone segment, it has never been able to make it work. The unit has consistently undermined profits and recent R&D efforts have focused on 5G in other device segments. This transaction would appear to be a win-win for both parties.