Motorola enters premium 5G bracket, but does it have the brand to justify a grand?

Lenovo-owned Motorola has announced the launch of its first 5G phone, coming in towards the top-end of the pricing scale at $999 in North America and €1,199 in Europe.

The Motorola Edge+ will be available in North America in the coming weeks before heading across the Atlantic in the months following. What is worth noting is the device will not be made available in the UK for some reason.

While the specifications are as you would expect for a flagship device, the pricing point is somewhat of an interesting element. There will be a cheaper device, the Motorola Edge, for the mid-tier markets, though the Edge+ pushes Motorola into the premium price bracket and into competition with the likes of Huawei, Apple and Samsung.

For those who keep a closer eye on the smartphone segment, this might be somewhat of an unusual move. The Z Series produced popular devices in the mid-tier market, though Motorola now seems to believe it can upgrade from this niche and compete with the big boys on the premium stage.

This is a risk for Motorola, as while the device might have the specifications to line-up against the more popular premium brands, one would question whether it has the brand reputation to ask for the majority of a customer’s monthly payslip.

To charge north of a grand for a smartphone, a firm needs to offer much more than a swish and sleek device. Apple, Samsung and Huawei are not necessarily successful because they have the best devices, but the marketing campaigns to cultivate a loyal following of customers is key. These brands are an experience, not a product, and this cannot be created overnight.

Apple is the king when it comes to creating a brand experience, as its customers could be likened to cultists more than anything, vehemently defending Safari, iOS and iMessage while queueing up for hours outside the Apple Store to be one of the first to purchase the new eye-wateringly expensive flagship device.

In China, Huawei has a similar status. It is seen as a technological champion, representing China on the global stage, even being the subject of a children’s song with patriotic lyrics. Market share statistics demonstrate how popular the device is in its domestic market, where is and other Chinese brands are crushing the international competition.

This is what is perhaps required to justify the expenditure of flagship devices today; a brand reputation which commands disciples, created through years of carefully crafted marketing messages and fantastical advertising campaigns. Think back to the ‘I’m a mac, and I’m a PC’ advertising campaign in the 90s. Mobile devices were not the focal point, but it was a marketing blitz which built the Apple brand as a company designed for creatives and innovators.

These campaigns and perceptions take years to establish. Huawei is an excellent example; it did not become a premium brand overnight but built campaigns which lasted years. These included high-profile sponsorships with numerous football teams throughout Europe, a brand partnership with Porsche, as well as celebrity endorsements from the likes of Henry Cavill and Scarlett Johansson.

This is where Motorola might struggle over the coming months. It might be able to convince customers to purchase the Edge device but spending an additional $400-odd for the Edge+ might be a step too far. It appears Motorola is trying to break into the premium space without doing any of the groundwork beforehand. This is a market which is about much more than device quality, and we don’t think the Motorola team has grasped that.

Motorola gets its Razr screen apologies in early

Ahead of shipping in a couple of weeks, Motorola has published some vids highlighting features of the pricey foldyphone, but also how to take care of it.

We’re distraught to have to inform you that Moto has followed Apple’s lead in dispensing with the definite article when referring to its products, as if they were a person or at least a fondly regarded domestic animal. Hence we get the video below, entitled ‘Caring for razr’, invoking the image of an enfeebled relative or instructions to a dog-sitter.

Razr is a delicate little petal, you see, and can’t just be manhandled as if it’s just some slab of circuitry egested from an indifferent production line. Razr has feelings, which will be hurt if you don’t treat it like the special, unique snowflake it is. Especially fragile, it seems, is its defining bendy screen, which we’re told is inclined to acquire ‘lumps and bumps’.

Now, before you scoff, let they who are without sin cast the first stone. Are you entirely free of lumps and bumps yourself? Because if not then who do you think you are judging Razr? Yes he/she/they cost a grand and a half and the upside of his/her/their deliberate Achilles Heel is far from obvious, but Moto urges those who adopt Razr to be gentle.

Motorola resurrects the Razr as a foldy smartphone

It was inevitable really, wasn’t it? Motorola is hoping the Razr feature phone brand can be transplanted into the smartphone era.

The Razr was probably the last time Motorola achieved mass market success in the handset market, but that was 15 years ago. Things have moved on a bit since then but if the brand, design and form factor worked before, it can work again, right? That seems to be what Moto is counting on by launching a smartphone based on the original concept.

The defining industrial design tweak is that this one is the first to bring foldy screen technology to the clamshell form factor. The result is essentially a regular modern smartphone that can fold in half. This distinguishes the new Razr from earlier efforts from Samsung and Huawei, because they’re more of an attempt to go in the other direction  and turn a phone into a tablet by unfolding it.

Moto doesn’t seem to have published a press release so you’re spared the generic-yet-hyperbolic canned quote about how this is the best thing since sliced bread. The site created to let you find out more does speak of ‘a design that shatters the status quo’, so that’s something. And there’s both a vid and a GIF, which you can see below.

Verizon seems to have the initial exclusive on the new Razr, and will start flogging it for $1,500 in the new year. A lot of that cost is down to the foldy screen, of course, but punters might have expected a better chip than the Snapdragon 710 for their grand-and-a-half. Maybe the form factor prohibits more powerful chips due to heat considerations and there is a generous 128GB of storage as consolation.

The original Razr sold well mainly because it looked cool and, at a time when handset design has stagnated, that may be all this one needs to take off too. The price will obviously scare most people off though, and having got used to carrying six inch devices around it remains to be seen how much of a USP being able to fold this one in half will be. Still, fair play to Moto for giving it a go.

 

Interdigital sues Motorola-owner Lenovo over 4G patents

Mobile and video tech developer Interdigital has filed patent infringement action against Lenovo in the UK because they can’t agree a price for use of its 4G patents.

Perhaps wary of being labelled a patent troll, Interdigital is keen to stress that this is the first patent infringement litigation it has initiated for six years. It claims its hand has been forced after the failure of almost a decade of negotiation with Lenovo, which makes Motorola phones as well as its own-branded devices.

Interdigital reckons it owns around 10% of the standards-essential patents in both 3G and 4G technology, which means it gets a piece of the action whenever someone sells a device that uses them. How much users of these patents have to pay is usually determined on a FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) basis, but apparently Lenovo won’t even accept third party FRAND arbitration.

Patent litigation canned comments are among the most formulaic, but let’s have a look anyway. “Having product companies take fair licenses to patented technologies flowing out of fundamental research is absolutely essential for the long-term success of worldwide standards like 4G and 5G,” said William Merritt, CEO of Interdigital.

“InterDigital has a long history of valuable technology innovation and patient, good faith negotiation and fair licensing practices, including our willingness to allow the economic terms of a FRAND license to be determined via binding neutral arbitration. We also have longstanding licensing relationships with many of the top companies in the mobile space, including successful license arrangements with Samsung, Apple, LG and Sony, among others.

“For our company, we turn to litigation only when we feel that negotiations are not being carried out in good faith. In bringing this claim in the UK High Court of Justice, which has a history of examining standards-essential patent issues, we are hopeful for a speedy resolution and a fair license.”

Here are the patents in question:

  • European Patent (UK) 2 363 008 – Enables the efficient control of carrier aggregation in 4G (LTE). In advanced mobile phones, carrier aggregation is key to achieving high data rates.
  • European Patent (UK) 2 557 714 – Supports the use of multiple antennae transmissions in 4G (LTE). The patent enables the use of flexible levels of error protection for reporting by the handset, increasing the reliability of the signaling.
  • European Patent (UK) 2 485 558 – Allows mobile phone users quick and efficient access to 4G (LTE) networks. One of the main technological challenges of developing LTE networks was efficient bandwidth usage for various traffic types such as VoIP, FTP and HTTP. This patent relates to inventions for quickly and efficiently requesting shared uplink resources — for example, reducing lag when requesting a webpage on a smartphone on LTE networks.
  • European Patent (UK) 2 421 318 – Decreases latency during HSUPA transmission by eliminating certain scenarios in HSUPA where scheduling requests may be blocked. A blocked scheduling request may prevent a smartphone from sending data.

Interdigital presumably has others that Lenovo is using in its devices, so either there’s no dispute over the them or Interdigital is focusing on the four juiciest ones, who knows? Patent litigation is pretty arcane stuff at the best of times, but it seems like Lenovo must have really pushed its luck for its relationship with Interdigital to come to this. It’s hard to see how they can justify refusing to go to FRAND arbitration, but there could well be extenuating circumstances that will come to light in due course.

The new Emergency Services Network is a predictable mess

The National Audit office has delivered a scathing assessment of the UK’s latest public project failure.

The delayed Emergency Services Network (ESN) is yet another waste of public funds, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). Designed to replace the legacy Airwave system run by Motorola with a new ESN using EE’s 4G network, the whole thing was delayed last year due to reasons and the NAO has just got around to working out what this is costing Joe Public. Here’s the summary table from the NAO report.

NAO ESN summary

“The success of the Emergency Services Network is critical to the day-to-day operations of our emergency services that keep us all safe,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. “The Home Office needs a comprehensive plan with a realistic timetable that properly considers risks and uncertainties. It has already been through one costly reset and is in danger of needing another unless it gets its house in order.”

How likely is that? The NAO seems pessimistic, stating that the revised target date is likely to slip, which would result in even more expenses. The NAO notes that EE seems to have raised its game since it last checked in on the project, but basic bits of technology such as the ability to communicate with aircraft are still not up to scratch. The following statements from the NAO announcement show just how unimpressed it is with how this project is being handled.

“The NAO does not think the Home Office has demonstrated that it understands the challenges emergency services face in introducing ESN, such as incurring extra costs by having to switch,” said the announcement. “Emergency services do not yet know how much money they will need to invest in infrastructure to improve the coverage or to make control rooms compatible. Some worry that this could place further financial pressure on other services they provide.

“There are also a number of commercial risks to ESN. The Home Office is currently renegotiating the programme’s main contracts with Motorola and EE, but these are behind schedule. Motorola needs to be carefully managed as it is both a main supplier to ESN and the owner of Airwave. It could therefore benefit financially from further delays if Airwave is extended. The Home Office is also yet to agree who will be responsible for running the ESN service once it is launched.

“The Home Office does not currently have the capability it needs to integrate and test ESN, which comprises multiple pieces of technology that must be made to work together. The Home Office is planning to let a new contract to provide programme advisory and delivery services in 2019.

“The Home Office expects ESN to be cheaper than Airwave in the long run, but the savings will not outweigh the costs until at least 2029. This is already seven years later than originally intended. The Home Office believes that ESN will bring £1.5 billion in financial and economic benefits by 2037. The largest economic benefit (£643 million) is  associated with increases in police productivity. Police representatives told the NAO that they had not agreed these figures with the Home Office.

“The NAO recommends that the Home Office test its overall programme plan to determine whether the new schedule for launching ESN and shutting down Airwave is achievable. The Home Office should also develop a contingency plan that sets out what it will do if the technology it is relying on does not work.”

The sad thing is that this is all entirely predictable and the only time UK public sector technology projects are surprising is when they deliver on time and on budget.

Home Office to delay 4G emergency service network by another three years

The Home Office has announced its cumbersome project to overhaul the Emergency Services Network (ESN) with a 4G network has been set back by another few years.

After negotiating a month-by-month contract with Motorola to keep its aging digital radio network Airwave alive, the Home Office has signed a new contract to extend this partnership through to 2022. Alongside this damning signature, the Motorola Solutions ESN agreement will be extended by 30 months through the end of 2024, to allow for a new phased implementation of EE’s 4G ESN. Just to put things in perspective, the initial plan was to have the network up and running by mid-2017.

“We are proud to support the Home Office on its new delivery approach for ESN while at the same time ensuring public safety users have the Airwave communications network they need,” said Kelly Mark, EVP of services and software at Motorola Solutions. “We have been working closely with the Home Office to ensure that our services are aligned with this new phased deployment and timeline for ESN.”

The new incremental approach means police, fire and rescue services, ambulance services and other users will be able to use data services over the network from early next year, with voice capabilities at some undefined point in the future. Of course, this is the sort of efficiency and accuracy many have come to expect from the UK government.

Keeping track of what is going on with the ESN is a tricky task; the rollout plan has changed more times than a teenagers mood.

Back when the initiative was initially launched, the plan was to give the emergency services the communications capability to match and exceed what they enjoy as private individuals. When the final contracts were issued to Motorola, to provide the public safety applications and user services, and EE, to provide an enhanced radio access service with nationwide coverage, the project was timetabled for completion by mid-2017. At the time, Mike Penning, Minister for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice & Victims, boasted the new network would save the government £1 million a day.

The ESN is to be built on EE’s commercial network, the largest 4G mobile network in the UK with the emergency services and other bodies to benefit from a dedicated core network designed to ensure priority use of the EE commercial network. The network will provide geographical coverage along major and minor roads, and special coverage locations; selected buildings, road tunnels and the London Underground for example, as well as 12 miles out to sea covering UK territorial waters and air-to-ground communications in England, Scotland and Wales. Some of the new features will include live video from body worn cameras transmitted from crime scenes or high definition images to allow hospital consultants to make remote diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

After a scathing review from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), this deployment date was pushed back to end-2019, and then a further nine months to September 2020. The party line is now the programme will save £200 million per year, considerably less than the initial promise from Penning. Perhaps such delays should have been expected from the beginning. Aside from this being a government initiative, the National Audit Office warned in September 2016 progress was five months behind schedule, not leaving enough time for the relevant users to effective test the network and learn from other authorities.

This is of course not the first time a government project has spiralled into incompetence. The abandoned NHS patient record system of yesteryear proved nothing but a disaster, swallowing more than £10 billion in public funds and delivering about as much satisfaction as warm milk on an August afternoon. At the time, MP Richard Bacon suggested “this saga is one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector”, but this was just another in a long line of disasters which included the child support agency, leaving thousands of families without cash, chaos within the passport agency and a tax credit system which was left open to fraud.

With the latest push-back from the Home Office, the project is doing nothing but enforcing the stereotype of civil servants and the capabilities of the public sector.