Nokia admits there may still be some Alcatel Lucent skeletons in the closet

Finnish kit vendor Nokia has filed its annual report with the SEC and in it flagged up some legacy issues from Alcatel Lucent that may still be a problem.

In the lengthy ‘risk factors’ section, Nokia indicates that, even years after it completed the acquisition of Alcatel Lucent, it’s still digging up stuff that may present some kind of threat to the company. Here’s the relevant passage in full.

“During the course of the ongoing integration process, we have been made aware of certain practices relating to compliance issues at the former Alcatel Lucent business that have raised concerns. We have initiated an internal investigation and voluntarily reported the matter to the relevant regulatory authorities, with whom we are cooperating with a view to resolving the matter. The resolution of this matter could result in potential criminal or civil penalties, including the possibility of monetary fines, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, brand, reputation or financial position.”

Asked for further comment on the matter Nokia just stressed that “although this investigation is in a relatively early stage, out of an abundance of caution and in the spirit of transparency, Nokia has contacted the relevant regulatory authorities regarding this review.” There’s no reason not to take that statement at face value at this stage, but while the extent of the material effect this could have on Nokia remains uncapped it will surely remain a significant concern.

Iran is also addressed in the risks section, with Nokia noting the dilemma that, while Europe is relaxing its sanctions against the country, the US is moving in the other direction and ramping them up. “As a European company it will be quite challenging to reconcile the opposing foreign policy regimes of the US and the EU,” it laments.

Since the US has shown an unlimited capacity for vindictiveness towards companies that do business with Iran Nokia has sensible decided not to do any more business there for the time being. “Although we evaluate our business activities on an ongoing basis, we currently do not intend to accept any new business in Iran in 2019 and intend to only complete existing contractual obligations in Iran in compliance with applicable economic sanctions and other trade-related laws,” said the filing.

Lastly the risks section also mentions HMD Global, which licenses the Nokia brand to put on its smartphones. It doesn’t make reference to any specific case but notes “Nokia has limitations in its ability to influence HMD Global in its business and other operations, exposing us to potential adverse effects from the use of the Nokia brand by HMD Global or other adverse development encountered by HMD Global that become attributable to Nokia through association and HMD Global being a licensee of the Nokia brand.” How timely.

Nokia-branded phones sent personal data from Norway to China

Norwegian media is reporting that private data of Nokia 7 Plus users may have been sent to a server in China for months. Finland’s data protection ombudsman will investigate and may escalate the case to the EU.

Henrik Austad, a Nokia 7 Plus user in Norway, alerted the Norwegian public media group NRK in February when he noticed every time he powered on his phone it would ping a server in China and batches of data would be sent. The data included the phone’s IMEI numbers, SIM card numbers, the cell ID of the base station the phone is connected to, and its network address (the MAC address), and they have been sent unencrypted. Investigation by NRK discovered that the recipient of the data is a domain (“http://zzhc.vnet.cn”) belonging to China Telecom.

Nokia 7 Plus pinging China server

Because HMD Global, the company behind the Nokia-branded phones that was set up by former Nokia executives and has licensed the Nokia brand, is a Finland-registered company, the news was quickly brought to the attention of Reijo Aarnio, Finland’s data protection ombudsman . “We started the investigation after receiving the news from the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK) and I also consulted our IT experts. The findings showed this looks rather bad,” Aarnio said.

When talking to the Finnish state broadcaster YLE and the country’s biggest broadsheet newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (HS), the ombudsman also raised a couple of serious concerns he said he would seek clarifications from HMD Global early next week:

  • Are the users aware that their personal data are being transferred to China?
  • On what legal ground, if any, are personal data transferred outside of the EU?
  • Have corrective actions been taken to prevent similar cases from happening again?

Earlier when writing to NRK, Aarnio said his first thought was this could be a breach of GDPR, and, if true, the case would be brought in front of the European Union. (Although Norway is not a EU member state, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, the three EEA countries which are not part of the EU, agreed to accept GDPR two months after it came into effect in the EU.)

Replying to Telecoms.com’s enquiry, HMD Global, through its PR agency, sent this statement:

We can confirm that no personally identifiable information has been shared with any third party. We have analysed the case at hand and have found that our device activation client meant for another country was mistakenly included in the software package of a single batch of Nokia 7 Plus. Due to this mistake, these devices were erroneously trying to send device activation data to a third party server. However, such data was never processed and no person could have been identified based on this data. This error has already been identified and fixed in February 2019 by switching the client to the right country variant. All affected devices have received this fix and nearly all devices have already installed it.

Collecting one-time device activation data when the phone is taken first time into use is an industry practice and allows manufacturers to activate phone warranty. HMD Global takes the security and privacy of its consumers seriously.

Jarkko Saarimäki, Director Finland’s National Cyber Security Centre (Kyberturvallisuuskeskus), which offered to support the ombudsman if needed, raised another point while talking to YLE, “In cases of this kind, the company should report the case to the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman (tietosuojavaltuutetun toimisto) and inform the customers of the data security risk.” It looks what HMD Global has done is exactly the opposite: it quietly fixed the issue with a software update.

What exactly happened remains unclear, but the investigation from NRK may shed some light. Further research into the data transfer took NRK investigators to GitHub, where they discovered a set of code that would generate data transmission similar to that on the Nokia 7 Plus in question, and to the same destination. This code resides in a subfolder called “China Telecom”. On the same level there are also subfolders for China Mobile, China Unicom as well as other folders for different purposes. Henrik Lied, the NRK journalist who first reported the case, shared with Telecoms.com this subfolder structure that he captured on GitHub:

GitHub snapshot

Closer analyses of the code in question on GitHub by Telecoms.com seem to have given us a bit more insight. This is what we assume has happened: HMD Global or its ODM partner sourced the code from a developer by the GitHub username of “bcyj” to transfer user data when a phone on China Telecom network is started. But, by mistake, HMD Global has loaded this set of code on a number of Nokia 7 Plus meant for Norway (“our device activation client meant for another country was mistakenly included in the software package of a single batch of Nokia 7 Plus”). When it realised the mistake by whatever means HMD Global released a software update to overwrite this code.

Incidentally it looks the code was originally written for a Chinese OEM LeEco (which is largely defunct now) whose product, e.g. the Le Max 2, was running on the Snapdragon 820 platform with the MSM8996 modem. The modem was later incorporated in the mid-tier platform Snapdragon 660 which powers the Nokia 7 Plus.

There are still quite a few questions HMD Global’s statement does not answer.

  • How many users have been affected? And in what countries? The award-winning Nokia 7 Plus is one of the more popular models from HMD Global, and it is highly unlikely a batch of products were specifically made for the Norwegian market with its limited size. Could the same products have been shipped to other Northern European markets too?
  • Is China Telecom the only operator in China that requires phones on its network to be equipped with a software that regularly sends personal data? We do not find similar programmes under the China Mobile or China Unicom subfolders on the same GitHub location.
  • Is HMD Global the only culprit? Or other OEMs’ products on China Telecom network and on the same Qualcomm modem are also running the same script every time the phone is powered on, but they have not made the same mistake by mixing up regional variants as HMD Global did?
  • On what ground could HMD Global claim that the recipients of the data or any other parties who have access to the data (as they are sent unencrypted), will not be able to identify the individuals (“no person could have been identified based on this data”)? To defend itself, in its statement to NRK, HMD Global referred to the Patrick Breyer vs Bundesrepublik Deutschland case when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that whether a certain type of data would qualify as “personal data” should generally need to be assessed based on a “subjective / relative approach”. In the present case HMD Global seems to be arguing that the recipients of the data sent from the phones are not able to establish the identities of the users. It may have its point as China Telecom (or other identities in China that receive the data) does not have the identity information of the users. However, this is a weak defence. The CJEU sided with the German Federal Court of Justice because the point of dispute was dynamic IP only, and the court deemed “that dynamic IP addresses collected by an online media service provider only constitute personal data if the possibility to combine the address with data necessary to identify the user of a website held by a third party (i.e. user’s internet service provider) constitutes a mean “likely reasonably to be used to identify” the individual”, as was summarised by the legal experts Fabian Niemann and Lennart Schüßler. In the HMD Global case, however, a full set of private data were transmitted, not to mention transmitted unencrypted.
  • On what evidence did HMD Global claim that the data transmitted has not been processed or shared with third parties?

To be fair to HMD Global, this is not the first, and by no means the biggest data leaking incident by communication products. For example the IT and communication system at the African Union headquarters, supplied and installed by Huawei, was sending data every night from Addis Ababa to Shanghai for over four years before it was uncovered by accident. Huawei’s founder later claimed that the data leaking “had nothing to do with Huawei”, though it was not clear whether he was denying that Huawei was aware of it or claiming Huawei was not playing an active role in it.

Less than 1% users ready to switch to 5G would be able to do so – report

According to a recent Deloitte consumer research, 5.8 million UK mobile users are happy to move to 5G networks but only 50,000 5G phones will hit the market.

The consulting firm surveyed 4,150 respondents aged 16-75 in the UK to produce the country section of their latest report, Mobile Consumer Survey 2018. One of the responses that stood out was on the consumers’ willingness to switch to 5G when it becomes available. 12% of the respondents said yes, a further 19% said they would if the word-of-mouth is positive, and 32% thought they would eventually switch.

To extrapolate the responses to the whole mobile using population, Deloitte believed up to 5.8 million users in the UK would be willing to adopt 5G as soon as it becomes available, which will happen this year. If the experience pleases the first adopters and they spread the word, 9.2 million more would be happy to jump on board. Meanwhile, Deloitte predicted that only about 50,000 5G enabled phones will be available in the UK market this year. This would translate into a 118 to 1 chance for a willing customer to get her hand on a 5G phone. That stands lower than the chance of Tottenham Hotspurs winning this season’s Premier League (100 to 1 by William Hill at the time of writing).

The question is constructed, and responses distributed like this:

Deloitte 5G questions Mar19

Odds aside, there is a fundamental element missing from this question: the consumers’ willingness to pay. And this includes two parts: paying for the “5 times faster” service and paying for the handsets that can carry such service.

Nearly half (48%) of telecom professionals answering Telecoms.com survey believed consumers would not pay more than 10% for 5G over what they pay now. Handsets are another issue. Huawei’s flagship 5G phone would cost a whopping 2,299€ (£1,972). The most affordable 5G phone that has been given an official price is the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G which is priced at 599€ (£514). Samsung has not given price indication of the 5G version of its Galaxy S10 series, but the 4G version is priced at £799. It is also worth noting that neither Huawei nor Samsung has managed to ship premium segment products in volume. Apple, the only brand that has delivered volume in this segment, is also seeing consumer enthusiasm weakening, and we would not see a 5G iPhone soon either.

If the payment consideration had been factored in the survey question, we might see the chances for those consumers really willing and ready to switch to 5G to actually do so vastly improved.

Innovations from the left field of Mobile World Congress 2019

Innovations demonstrated at a fringe event outside of the sound and fury of MWC showed promise to solve some real-life problems.

MobileFocus, a long-running fringe event during the MWC week in Barcelona, brought about two dozen companies to showcase their innovations that may not hit the frontpage but are illuminating nonetheless. There were big companies, like Lenovo, which displayed a slew of its new PCs, but most exhibitors are single product small companies. Some of them promoted ideas as straightforward as Bluetooth speakers focused on design, or water-proof cases to take smartphones into the pool. Others are trying to address more sophisticated issues. At least three of them impressed.

MobileFocus Amber

Amber is an elegant looking private cloud datacentre. It is also a high-speed Wi-Fi router and in-home media casting centre (with DLNA), and other functions. This product would appeal to the users that are interested in saving their files in the cloud but are concerned with the security of public clouds (e.g. iCloud, which has been compromised in some high-profile cases). With this device physically located in the user’s own premise, hacking would become more difficult. It also has strong enough processing power (an Intel Dual-Core CPU) and embedded AI engine, so it can also do facial indexing and searching as the Google Photos offers. Trusted parties can also remotely (i.e. outside of the home environment) access files on the datacentre. Coming up next, the company will offer passive back-up on the company’s cloud, as a double security. By passive back-up, the company explained, it meant the files cannot be shared from the cloud. The California-based start-up expects the products to hit the market in the next month.

MobileFocus e-checkup

e-Checkup is designed to measure a user’s blood pressure with a set of sensors added on the back of a smartphone and the application to go with it. Although the wellness functions on smartphones and smartwatches will measure pulses, very few have offered blood pressure measuring, presumably because it is harder to get right. The company claimed that this is the world’s first accurate cuff-less and calibration-free blood pressure measurement system. The application gamifies the measuring processes by asking the user to keep pressing against the sensors to keep an on-screen water stream steadily pouring into a lake. Readings will be made when the water level rises to a defined bar. The Lausanne-based Leman Micro Devices expected that this technology could be cleared by the FDA for a Class II risk device category soon. That would be the same class as the latest Apple Watch. It is also in advanced discussions with unnamed smartphone OEMs to integrate the sensors in their upcoming phone models to make the testing experience more ergonomically pleasant (the mock-up on the top of the picture).

MobileFocus DeviceAssure fake Galaxy 9

DeviceAssure is a B2B security tool to detect counterfeit mobile devices. The service offered by the Dublin-based company can run both on-device and cloud-based test of the product down to chipset level to decide whether it is genuine. Three new “developments” in the counterfeit trade have made the detection job both more challenging and more pertinent. Counterfeiting techniques are much more advanced. This “Galaxy 9” looks very bit the part except that it is a $80 fake, and an ordinary user would find it hard to tell with his naked eyes.

Distribution is more efficient, helped by the online shopping channels. Last but not the least, the bloatware or even malware preinstalled on these phones are more sophisticated. The last of the three new trends makes it particularly desirable for the company’s corporate customers to be more vigilant against counterfeit end user devices. For example, corporate IT teams need to be able to block counterfeit devices from connecting to the corporate networks to defend against malware being distributed; or banks should be able to stop counterfeit handsets installing online banking applications as their customers’ security could be more easily compromised. The company representatives did admit, however, that it took them a while to understand why, out of all kinds of enterprise customers, telecom operators were the least concerned with counterfeit phones, so long as the users pay the phone bills.

Some of the companies also have a booth inside MWC, but most of them only attend fringe events like this. A few companies at MobileFocus also ride on the big themes like IoT security, but most of them start with solving a more concrete problem, which makes the fringe events more refreshing. Edinburgh Fringe has given us Stephen Fry, might MWC fringe give us tomorrow’s Steve Jobs?

Huawei gets in on the 5G foldy phone game

Just days after Samsung’s big reveal Huawei has launched a foldy phone of its own on the eve of Mobile World Congress 2019.

In contrast to the Samsung Fold the foldy screen of the Huawei Mate X is on the outside of the folded device. It also seems designed to be more compact when folded and is slightly biggers – 8 inches, when unfolded. Lastly it seem to come with 5G from the start thanks to Huawei being in control of its destiny in that departments.

Regrettably Huawei feels the need to go down the hyperbolic launch event path forged by the late Apple boss Steve Jobs. So the theme for the big Barcelona event was ‘Meet the unprecedented’, despite the launch having been precedented three days ago. The obligatory superlative was satisfied with the somewhat qualified claim this it is ‘the world’s fastest foldable 5G phone.’ This presumably means Huawei thinks its 5G modem is faster than the Qualcomm X50, which is an interesting claim.

“With the advent of the all-scenario era, consumers are increasingly looking forward to revolutionary experiences,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, who you can hear more from in the video below. “To support the hyperconnected 5G period, Huawei Consumer BG remains committed to the all-scenario smart ecosystem strategy. We will spare no effort to drive pervasive connectivity to individuals, office and homes, and create a world-leading 5G all-scenario smart living experience that is unlike anything that has come before.”

That’s about it for now. It looks like a pretty cool device, but it wants to be considering it will set you back $2,600. This first set of foldy phone launches seems to be as much about bragging rights, technological chest-beating and headline chasing as anything, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting. Prices will have to come down, of course, but maybe no by that much if they can demonstrate genuine, useful added value from the first new smartphone form factor in over a decade.

 

Xiaomi brought an old phone to Barcelona but added 5G to it

Xiaomi used Mobile World Congress 2019 to launch a 5G version of its Mi Mix 3 smartphone. The product will be available in the markets by May 2019.

Under the banner of “We Make It Happen” and billed as its first Mobile World Congress product launch (despite that it took place one day before MWC started), Xiaomi introduced the Mi Mix 3 5G version. The original 4G version of the phablet / super-sized phone was launched in October 2018. The new 5G reincarnation is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 equipped with the new X50 5G modem.

“Xiaomi has spent tremendous efforts developing a 5G smartphone solution and Mi MIX 3 5G represents Xiaomi’s quest to create innovative products for everyone,” said Wang Xiang, Senior Vice President of Xiaomi. “We are also delighted and honoured to be working with our partners to make 5G a reality for even more users all over the world.”

By partners on this particular occasion he definitely included Qualcomm and Orange, both of which endorsed the product launched. Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm Incorporated, shared the stage at the event. “We are thrilled to continue our long-standing collaboration with Xiaomi to help bring deliver unprecedented 5G speeds and transformative user experiences to consumers through their latest flagship smartphone, Mi MIX 3 5G,” he said.

Then a live 5G video call on the Mi Mix 3 5G was made on stage with an off-site Orange Spain executive, using Orange network. This may look commonplace nowadays, but it made history for Xiaomi: it was Xiaomi’s first 5G video call outside of China, the company claimed. It did not let go the opportunity without a subtle poke on AT&T either. When pointing at the on-screen 5G symbol, the Xiaomi product development director stressed this is real 5G, “not fake 5G”.

With the exception of 5G, all the other features and specs of Mi Mix 3 5G are the same as its 4G predecessor. The 5G version will be available in May and is priced at 599€.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 launch Feb 2019

Also introduced at the event is Mi 9, its new flagship smartphone launched in China a few days ago. Xiaomi spent a fair amount of time promoting the triple-camera, especially the AI performance to support different picture taking scenarios. Also being highlighted was Mi 9’s full-curved back cover, which it claimed to be inspired by the works of Antoni Gaudí, much to the delight of the local audience.

The Mi 9 is priced at 449€ for the 64GB version, and 499€ for the 128GB version. It is open to pre-order from today in Spain, France, and Italy.

The new product launches are packaged as steps taken to carry out the company’s “dual-core strategy” of Smartphone+AIoT that Xiaomi’s founder launched recently. Xiaomi’s executive threw in quite a few impressive numbers as proofs. For example, the number of monthly active users of MIUI (Xiaomi’s skin on top of Android) has reached 224 million; more than 2,000 products have been brought to the market by over 200 companies in the Xiaomi ecosystem; there are 132 million activated Xiaomi consumer IoT products, which has made it the world’s largest consumer IoT company.

It is also collaborating with IKEA and Philips to popularise smart homes and smart lighting. To make the point, Xiaomi’s executive went into a demo home environment on stage, attempting to switch off the smart air purifier with Google Assistant voice command. He did not quite pull it off. The air purifier refused to switch off, twice. Then he gave up.

Three questions to ask at MWC this week

The sandwiches are stale, the beer is over-priced and the queue for a taxi is a depressing sight, it can only mean one thing; we’re heading back out to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress.

Some people might suggest the importance of this annual event is dwindling, but it is arguably still the focal point of the telecommunications industry. Buzzwords will be everywhere this year, but there are three important questions we are hoping to find the answer to over the next four days.

How will the telcos sell 5G to the consumer?

After years of being promised 5G will change our lives, now is the time for the hype to transfer into reality. Over the next twelve months dozens of operators around the world will launch 5G networks and we’ll start to experience the connected vision of tomorrow. But for all the propaganda, now we need the delivery.

While many have been gearing up for enterprise related services and business models, telcos will have to figure out how to sell 5G to the consumer. It might not be the biggest pot of gold available, but it is certainly revenue which can be squeezed out of customers. But how do you convince consumers to spend those extra pounds each month?

Marketing and sales strategies in the telco industry have always been built around the idea of ‘bigger, badder, faster’, with consumers constantly being told extra speed is the best possible solution for worldly woes. To be successful in the future, new ideas will be needed. As it stands, 4G is very fast and can get faster. These are networks which can handle pretty much every service or product which is available to the consumer, and it’ll be years before we hit the speed ceiling again. So how do you sell 5G to a consumer when speed is no-longer a pain point.

Currently, 5G is a solution without a consumer problem. Soon enough the services will appear to demand the bigger speeds, but whoever figures out how to balance this tricky equation in the meantime will certainly be in a good place.

What impact is politics having on the telco industry?

Its impossible to escape politics at the moment, and the on-going conflict between the US and China is central to this tale.

There is certainly an impact, though how much trauma this will create in the long-run remains to be seen. Right now, you can already see certain markets thriving and others dithering through a landscape of accusation, aggression and uncertainty.

Over in Korea, the telcos are rapidly rolling out 5G. This is one country which snubbed Huawei, though this should have come as little surprise considering a preference for a domestic champion. The Korean telcos are embracing 5G and the stable environment which has been created, leaping ahead to claim a leadership position in the race towards connected riches.

In Europe, progress might be faltering. Although many of the European nations do not seem to share the aggressive anti-China sentiment as the US, rule makers are yet to carve out a specific position on Huawei as a vendor in the 5G mix. Right now, it does look like Huawei will largely be able to operate throughout Europe, but the various governments and the European Commission are yet to define a concrete position.

All this creates is an element of uncertainty and uncertainty is the enemy of investment. It’ll be interesting to see what impact this political predicament is having on the industry, and how much of a slowing impact it is having on deployment plans throughout the bloc.

What does the future hold for the humble smartphone?

Foldable phones have been stealing the headlines over the last couple of weeks, and it does beg the question of what the smartphone will look like in a decade.

Although numerous companies have tried and failed to redefine what we conceive as a communications device, there are certainly some interesting developments which will not only encourage the evolution from a form-factor perspective, but also the way in which we use and perceive devices.

The foldable devices are an interesting development, entertainment and gaming will be taken up a notch, but you also have to consider gesture control, voice interaction, biometric authentication and edge computing.

Looking at the gesture control and voice interaction to start, with connectivity being built into everything around us not just the smartphone, the idea of a digital gateway is completely redefined. Factor in Bluetooth headsets and augmented reality glasses, suddenly you don’t need to look at a screen all the time to ride the virtual highway. The constant demand for a screen might erode when your voice can deliver everything you need.

For biometric authentication, once most of your data is stored on the cloud, theoretically every screen could become your interface. And of course, once edge computing starts leaping forward, more processing power can be removed from the phone and hosted elsewhere. Not only will this allow for more powerful services and applications, but it changes the requirements for components in and on devices.

Combine all of these factors, and the idea of a smartphone changes. There could be a lot more freedom to create new products.

Grab me and talk to me!

We’ll be wandering through the halls over the next couple of days at MWC, so if you want to expense a beer and set the world to rights, grab me and talk to me!

Samsung launches a 5G phone and a tablet you can fold in half

With the launch of its first 5G smartphone as well as its first foldable screen Samsung has grabbed the pre-MWC headlines but what is the point of either device?

As is so often the way with new convergent product categories, this first attempt to make something that is both a phone and a tablet seems to have resulted in something that isn’t much good at being either. Essentially it’s a small tablet that can fold in half to make a very chunky phone, with a hefty price tag to match.

But we mustn’t be too negative. Samsung has been teasing the bendy screen for years and actually putting one into a commercial device is an impressive achievement. Its first effort was always going to be more of a public prototype than anything a normal person would consider buying, but it is as a commercial offering that it should be judged.

The Galaxy Fold uses a new display technology Samsung is calling ‘Infinity Flex’, which is an AMOLED screen that can be folded in half. Hence you have a 7.3-inch tablet that, when folded, becomes a 4.6-inch phone. Thus you have all the portability of a phone combined with the viewing experience of a tablet, or so Samsung would have us believe.

“Today, Samsung is writing the next chapter in mobile innovation history by changing what’s possible in a smartphone,” said DJ Koh, Samsung’s head of mobile. “Galaxy Fold introduces a completely new category that unlocks new capabilities never seen before with our Infinity Flex Display. We created Galaxy Fold for those that want to experience what a premium foldable device can do, beyond the limitations of a traditional smartphone.”

We note with dismay that Samsung has adopted Apple’s irritating habit of dropping the definite article when referring to its products, as if they’re a person rather than a thing. But that’s not enough to distract us from the fact that 7.3-inches is very small for a tablet market in which ten inches has become the norm and that, when folded, the phone is inevitably much fatter than we’ve become accustomed to with regular smartphones. Oh yes, and it costs two grand (dollars).

We spoke to Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics to get his take on it. “Samsung Fold is the world’s most important smartphone launch since Apple iPhone in 2007,” he said. “Samsung’s Fold is a very good first-generation device. The Fold is relatively expensive, bulky and heavy, but the foldable industry has to start somewhere and this is a pretty good beginning.

“We forecast global foldable smartphone revenues to rise from zero in 2018 to US$2 billion in 2019. Foldable designs will account for 1% of all smartphones shipped worldwide in 2019. The first buds of the foldable smartphone era are starting to sprout.

“Foldable smartphones are a luxury gadget today, a premium product in a year or two, and a midrange device in five or so years. Think of foldable smartphones at the moment as a Rolex watch or Ferrari supercar, a show-off product for status-seekers with deep pockets.”

One last question mark comes courtesy of our eagle-eyed video producer and resident gadget geek Pierre. He noticed in the unveiling video that the opened-up screen doesn’t seem to be perfectly flat. As you can see in the screenshot below, only one half of the screen is reflecting the spotlight, which strongly implies it doesn’t open up to the full 180 degrees. Hmmm.

Galaxy Fold screenshot

Somewhat overshadowed by all this foldy fun was the launch of Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone family, the Galaxy S10, S10+ and S10e. So we now have the ‘e’ variant as the lowest-priced version ($750) and then the option of two increases in size, spec and price ($900 and $1,000). The infographic at the bottom shows how the biggest one has been upgraded from last year.

The most interesting part of that launch, however, was the promise of a 5G version hitting the shelves of US operator Verizon in Q2 of this year. The Galaxy S10 5G will be even bigger than the S10+, with its 6.7-inch screen barely smaller than the foldy one, which once more begs the question of what the point of the latter is.

Other than that, details are a bit thin on the ground, including price, although we can safely assume it will cost a fair bit more than the S10+. We do know the 5G modem is the Snapdragon X50, however, with Qualcomm wasting little time in crowing about that. It also flagged up the first commercial use of its 3D Sonic Sensor, which allows fingerprints to be scanned through the screen.

“Samsung S10 is relatively well priced for its premium features, and Samsung seems to have learnt from the S9 overpricing debacle last year,” said Mawston. “Samsung’s S10 range carries some rare or near-unique features, such as 5G and Wireless Power Share for phone-to-phone recharging. Of course, Samsung’s rivals are not standing still. For example, Huawei is pumping out plenty of premium smartphones with standout features, such as the Mate 20 X with a huge 7.2-inch screen.”

Samsung announced a bunch of European 5G operator partnerships that will support the launch of the S10 5G across Europe in the middle of this year. The following operators served up canned quotes from their CEOs saying how excited they are, which we will spare you: DT, EE, Orange, Sunrise, Swisscom, TIM, Telefonica and Vodafone.

In summary this was an impressive array of launches from Samsung, presumably timed to steal the thunder away from other launches that typically take place on the Sunday before MWC starts. The foldy phone as it is now just seems to be an expensive gimmick, but we may eventually view it as the start of an era. The same goes for the S10 5G, which will initially have very little 5G network to work with, but is nonetheless a milestone in the evolution of the smartphone industry.


Galaxy S10+ infographic

Almost one zettabyte of mobile data traffic in 2022 – Cisco

Cisco forecasts that 5G connections will go from nothing in 2017 to 3.4% of the global total in 2022. Over the same period annual mobile data traffic will reach 930 exabytes, a seven-fold growth.

The report provides plenty of valuable data points for the industry, both of records of recent history and predictions of the near future. For example, despite the expected fast growth of 5G, by 2022, 4G will continue to dominate both the number of connections and the data generated. 54% of total connections will be on 4G, which will generate 71% of total mobile data traffic. Mobile data traffic will represent 20% of all IP traffic by 2022.

With regard to data traffic by individual devices, on average a smartphone will generate 11 GB of traffic per month by 2022, up from 2GB in 2017. Mobile video will be responsible for even higher proportion of the total traffic. 59% of the total mobile data was video in 2017. This number will grow up to 79% by 2022, and the absolute data volume of mobile video will increase by nine times.Cisco VNI monthly data volume

The report identifies seven key global mobile networking trends, from Cisco’s perspective.

  1. Evolving toward Smarter Mobile Devices: this largely refers to the high and increasing percentage of smartphones, including phablets, in all the connected devices (from 50% to 54%), as well as the fast growth of M2M connections (from 11% to 31%). Main segment losing out will be non-smartphones (from 34% to 10%).
  2. Defining Cell Network Advances: this trend refers to the accelerated growth of mobile connections on newer technologies (4G and 5G) in contrast to the fast decline of the number of 2G connections and the gradual decline of 3G connections. Another fast-growing segment is M2M on Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) networks, increasing from 130 million in 2017 to 1.8 billion by 2022. Cisco VNI connections by technology
  3. Measuring Mobile IoT Adoption: captured in this trend is the continued growth of M2M and wearable connections. Globally, M2M connections will grow from just under 1 billion in 2017 to 3.9 billion by 2022, a CAGR of 32%. Wearables are treated as a subset of M2M connections by Cisco. The report forecasts 1.1 billion wearable devices globally by 2022, more than double the volume of 526 million in 2017, with a CAGR of 16%. Among them, 10% will have embedded cellular connectivity, up from 4% in 2017.
  4. Expanding Role and Coverage of Wi-Fi: the volume of mobile data may be big, but the volume of mobile data going through Wi-Fi offload is even bigger. The report forecasts that 59% of all data from mobile connected devices will be offloaded to Wi-Fi in 2022, amounting to 111.4 exabytes per month, up from 54% offload, or 13.4 exabytes per month in 2017. To enable the fast growth of offload data volume, the report forecasts, there will also need to have much more Wi-Fi hotspots. It estimates that Wi-Fi hotspots (including homespots) will grow from 124 million in 2017 to 549 million by 2022.
  5. Identifying New Mobile Applications and Requirements: in addition to video being the application category that generates the lion’s share of total mobile data traffic, VR, AR and Mixed Reality are also expected to experience a fast growth in the coming years. Globally, augmented and virtual reality traffic will grow from 22 petabytes per month in 2017 to 254 petabytes per month in 2022.
  6. Comparing Mobile Network Speed Improvements: the speed of mobile data is determined by both the networks and devices. In particular with the accelerated 5G rollout in the forecast period, the report expects to see the average speed of mobile network connection to increase from 8.7 Mbps in 2017 to 41.6 Mbps in 2022. The speeds also vary vastly between technologies. While the average 4G speed is expected to grow from 30 Mbps in 2017 to 44 Mbps in 2022, the average 5G speed will increase from 76 Mbps in 2019 to 170 Mbps in 2022. Cisco VNI speed by technology
  7. Reviewing Tiered Pricing, Unlimited Data and Shared Plans: the final trend examines what impact operators’ data packages and tiered pricing schemes will have on customers’ data consumption patterns. One interesting finding is that, a combined effect of all users increasing their data usage and more operators reintroducing data package cap has driven the proportion of data generated by the top 1% of users down from 52% in 2010 to only 6% in 2018.

The Visual Networking Index is produced by combining Cisco’s proprietary data and assumptions with that published by professional research firms as well as by the ITU.

The secondary market is becoming a primary consideration for smartphone vendors

With western smartphone markets in steep decline the secondary market is gaining traction as a counter-intuitive way to reverse that trend.

On first inspection a vibrant secondary (i.e. used) smartphone market seems like a threat to sales of new phones. Why would you bother buying a new one when you can get a decent second-hand one for a fraction of the price? But dig a bit deeper and you can just as easily conclude that making it easier for people to flog their old phones could incentivise them to upgrade more frequently.

The latter position is one adopted by smartphone security specialist Blancco, which has just published a report entitled ‘The Critical Importance of Consumer Trust in the Second-Hand Mobile Market’. The report is based around a survey of 5,000 punters from the UK, US, Germany, India and the Phillipines, which looked into their attitudes towards the secondary smartphone market.

As with all reports published by a company with a product or service to sell, it’s safe to assume there is a business reason for such an undertaking. In this case one of the things Blancco does is manage the data erasure on used devices when they’re collected to make sure no consumer data is hacked/breached/misused, so they have an interest in generating demand for such a service. That said, let’s have a look at the findings.

58% of those surveyed had never traded in a device and in the first table below you can see the stated reasons why. Cutting to the chase, people were then asked how concerned they were about their data security if they were to flog their old phone and, as you can see from the second table, the majority of people in all the countries surveyed had at least some concern.

Blancco table 1

Blancco table 2

“The secondary mobile device market is a huge success story,” said Russ Ernst, EVP, Products & Technology at Blancco. “Each of its major stakeholders – operators, OEMS and 3PLs [third party logistics] – have so much more value to extract from it as more global consumers choose to sell or buy used equipment if they trust in the process of used device collection and redistribution.

“Without a common, mandated and regulated rule book for smartphone processing, the ecosystem will be subject to abuse and malicious attack. The current ecosystem is made up of multiple stakeholders that collect devices from various touchpoints and redistribute them to many other parties.

“Since the speed of device processing is the only critical success factor, and as more devices flood the market, the chances of data breaches or issues related to data misuse will become increasingly likely. The secondary device market remains an amazingly lucrative and exciting opportunity for everyone, but only if it retains full consumer confidence built on trust and data integrity.”

Apple is being especially proactive in the secondary market by letting its loyal punters trade in their old iPhones as part of the price of a new one. The UK trade-in page makes it very easy to get a valuation and cleverly they will even accept non iPhones. Having said that they’ll only give you £445 for a 64GB iPhone X that they can resell for twice that amount so they’re not being that generous.

But Blancco does seem to have a point about the growing secondary market and it stands to reason that trust plays a big part in it. Presumably Apple fanboys are more likely to trust Apple itself than their operator or some random third party. While we don’t accept it as a given that a strong secondary market necessarily equals a strong primary one, it looks like there’s at least some money to be made from being a trusted reseller.