IFA 2011: Biggest Show on Earth

IFA 2011, the world’s largest consumer electronics and home appliance show, opens September 1 and runs for 5 days.

Thousands of new products are on display. Last year, the Berlin show attracted over 230,000 visitors. With more attendees and exhibition space than CES, it can legitimately claim to be the world’s biggest tech expo.

In 1930 Albert Einstein gave a keynote speech about the future of radio; five years later the event introduced the first magnetic recording tape. In 1967 PAL colour televisions made their debut, and then in 1981 CD players were unveiled. In 1995, European broadcasters demonstrated digital TV for the first time.

Tech Radar has a preview:

Engadget has more IFA coverage.

AT&T Announces $700 LTE Tablet

The HTC JetStream is the first tablet device to support AT&T’s yet-to-be-launched Long Term Evolution 4G network.

The Jetstream will cost $699.99 with a two-year contract. It features 10.1-inch display, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and Long Term Evolution 4G. It is so far the only piece of computing hardware to work on both AT&T’s 4G and 3G networks. It goes on sale September 4.

AT&T tablet customers under a two year contract now have a new $35, 3 GB monthly data plan option. Customers who do not choose a long-term commitment may still select one of two existing monthly billing options:

  • Postpaid: $14.99 for 250 MB or $25 for 2 GB. Customers on the 2 GB plan who exceed their monthly data allotment will be charged $10 per 1 GB of overage. Charges will appear on customers’ monthly wireless statements.
  • Prepaid: $14.99 for 250 MB or $25 for 2 GB. Customers on the 2 GB plan who exceed their monthly data allotment may choose to purchase an additional 2 GB for $25. Charges will appear on customers’ credit card statements.

AT&T’s 4G LTE network has not officially been launched. However, it now appears to be operational in Chicago and Atlanta.

Samsung announced their Galaxy Tab 8.9 tablet this week – an LTE device – but hasn’t yet said when the devices will hit the U.S. The Galaxy Tab 8.9, features a screen resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and Google’s Android Honeycomb OS. It is essentially a small-screened version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab with a 10.1″ screen.

Samsung’s 8.9″ LTE tablet is expected to start shipping in early 2012 but no pricing details yet. Perhaps Verizon and AT&T will force Samsung to restrict distribution of LTE-enabled versions, so they can “discount” the price with a 2-year contract.

AT&T has committed to deploying LTE in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The company expects to deploy LTE across 70 million POPs in 15 markets by year-end. AT&T plans to launch its first LTE smartphone by year-end.

DOJ Blocking AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

Food fight! – Animal House

The United States Department of Justice today filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA. The Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the merger meant higher prices and less competition. The DOJ’s complaint (pdf, 25 pages), was filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The Justice Department said that the proposed $39 billion transaction would substantially lessen competition for mobile wireless telecommunications services across the United States, resulting in higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices and fewer innovative products for the millions of American consumers who rely on mobile wireless services in their everyday lives.

The FCC and the Justice Department are reviewing the proposed $39 billion purchase by AT&T of smaller rival T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG.

The U.S. is seeking a declaration that Dallas-based AT&T’s takeover of T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, would violate U.S. antitrust law. The U.S. also asked for a court order blocking any arrangement implementing the deal.

AT&T, in a press release said, “We remain confident that this merger is in the best interest of consumers and our country, and the facts will prevail in court.”

Sprint, in a press release said, “The DOJ today delivered a decisive victory for consumers, competition and our country. By filing suit to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile, the DOJ has put consumers’ interests first.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said today, “Competition is an essential component of the FCC’s statutory public interest analysis, and although our process is not complete, the record before this agency also raises serious concerns about the impact of the proposed transaction on competition.”

If regulators reject the deal, which would create the biggest U.S. wireless carrier, AT&T would have to pay Deutsche Telekom $3 billion in cash. It would also provide T-Mobile USA with wireless spectrum in some regions and reduced charges for calls into AT&T’s network, for a total package valued at as much as $7 billion, Deutsche Telekom said this month.

“Given the size of the cancellation fee that was negotiated into his agreement, AT&T has the incentive to fight,” said Andrew Gavil, a law professor at Howard University in Washington. “The fact that the Justice Department is challenging the deal doesn’t mean they won’t negotiate a resolution at some point.”

The Yankee Group says (pdf) that eliminating T-Mobile as a competitive force would cause overall wireless bills to climb in many major markets, in some cases by more than $8 a month.

The merger would combine the second- and fourth-largest carriers to create a new market leader ahead of No. 1 Verizon Wireless. The new company would have dwarfed current No. 3 carrier Sprint Nextel, which argued against the deal.

The Wall Street Journal maps out the family tree of US carriers.

AT&T accidentally let it slip, in a filing to the FCC (pdf), that AT&T was unwilling to spend the $3.8 billion it would cost to push LTE coverage from 80% of the country to 97% — yet the same argument was used to explain their need for a $39 merger with T-Mobile.

“I think T-Mobile will need to hook up or do as we do–partner with a Clearwire or others, or LightSquared, as we have done,” said Steve Elfman, president of Sprint’s network operations, in an interview with the Seattle Times.

Okay, how about a T-Mobile and Dish Networks deal. That seems synergistic. T-Mobile could then enable national LTE service on Dish’s 40 MHz of 2.1 GHz spectrum. T-Mobile and Dish could offer a voice and video bundle.

SpectrumCo’s AWS frequencies – owned by Cable operators – might now be sold to T-Mobile, speculates Tim Farrar. T-Mobile could use the 19 MHz that SpectrumCo isn’t using, and their AWS (1.7/2.1 Ghz) spectrum would also compliment Dish’s 40 MHz of 2.2 GHz Mobile Satellite Spectrum for LTE. One antenna could deliver it all.

A Sprint/T-Mobile merger, in contrast, might have:

  • A 28% market share, compared to 31.9% (AT&T) and Verizon (31.1%)
  • Access to 100 Mbps “wireless cable” and “world phone” service at 2.6 GHz
  • A potential 40-60 GHz from combined AWS & 2.6 GHz spectrum
  • Economies of scale and integration
  • Bonus Bucks from spectrum sales (Sprint) and failed merger (T-Mobile)

Either a Dish/T-Mobile or Sprint/T-Mobile deal would provide more growth potential than the ill-conceived $39B merger with T-Mobile which offered little spectral advantage.

In a related news, AT&T vowed to bring back 5,000 wireless call-center jobs if the deal is approved. It’s not clear whether that would happen before or after AT&T lays off 10,000 T-Mobile phone store employees. On page 51 of AT&T’s filing with the FCC (pdf), AT&T says the deal would save it $3 billion a year starting three years after it was complete by “optimizing” the combined company’s retail and distribution networks.

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Galaxy S-II Rolls Out

AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have announced three Samsung Galaxy S II smartphones for the three carriers. Samsung has already sold more than five million units in 85 days, according to Samsung’s press release.

Samsung’s Android 2.3 S-2, an upgrade to the best selling first generation Galaxy S features an Exynos 1.2GHz dual-core processor, a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture, a 10 percent larger battery, 4G support, and a Super AMOLED Plus touch screen.

PC Mag compares the three models:

  • The AT&T Galaxy S II features a 1.20-Ghz, dual-core Samsung Exynos processor, a 4.3-inch, 800-by-480 Super AMOLED Plus screen and a textured plastic back. It will be one of AT&T’s few 4G phones, meaning HSPA+ 21. Bloatware includes Live TV, Qik, Words with Friends, and a Yellow Pages app. It will be available on Sept. 19.
  • Sprint’s Epic 4G TouchSprint’s version has more rounded corners and sports a 4.5-inch screen (the same 800-by-480 resolution, though) with WiMax. Sprint bloatware includes Sprint Music Plus, Sprint Radio, Sprint TV and Movies, Sprint’s Wi-Fi hotspot app, Sprint Mobile. It will be available on Sept. 16.
  • T-Mobile’s Galaxy SII is the most rounded of the three, and supports HSPA+. It will be available sometime in the fall.

Verizon, like the other major carriers, carried the previous-generation Galaxy S smartphone, but the company has not officially announced plans for the latest version. Presumably it will be available with LTE.

At the upcoming IFA trade show in Berlin on September 1st, Samsung is planning to showcase a bunch of new Android-powered Galaxy devices: Galaxy W, M Pro, Y and Y Pro, plus the new Galaxy Tab 7.7. Perhaps the LTE version of the SII will also be announced there.

All three Galaxy S II devices offer 16GB of onboard memory as well as a MicroSD card slot that supports up to a 32GB memory card. It also has DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) to stream smartphone video to other DLNA-enabled devices, Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) technology, which enables the phones to get power when they stream HD video through the MHL-equipped HDMI ports of TVs, an eight-device mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, 802.11a/b/g/n as well as Wi-Fi Direct, Voice Talk to enable voice commands, and USB on the Go, which should enable direct plug in for USB devices.

It’s expected to be one of the few strong competitors to the anticipated iPhone 5.

Media Tablet War: Apple Vs B&N, Amazon & Others

Barnes & Noble reported its financial performance today. They generated $1.4 billion in sales, a 2 percent increase over the same period last year.

Book sales were down, but the company’s Nook operation were up, reports C/Net.

The company reported that its Nook business, which includes hardware and digital-content sales, grew 140 percent during the period to $277 million.

The $139 Nook and Nook $249 Color, which runs Android, features a B&N application store, in addition to e-book support.

The agency pricing model for e-books, in which book publishers set the retail price and retailers take a commission, is working well for Barnes & Noble, says Paid Content. Amazon now can’t undercut it on e-books from the “big 6” publishers, all of whom use the agency model.

“We think agency is going to take hold as the dominant form of pricing for e-books going forward. It makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons,” Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said in an investor call this morning.

All eyes are now on Amazon, for an anticipated color Android tablet.Technologizer speculates on how the Amazon Tablet might be priced:

Could Amazon sell a tablet for $399? Sure, that’s entirely plausible. But that’s not hundreds less–it’s hundred less.

$299? Not inconceivable. But I think we’d be talking one with sharply less robust technical specs and an iPad or a Honeycomb tablet, and probably a smallish screen.

$199? Hmmm. If Amazon sells a tablet for $199, it’s going to be fairly basic and Amazon will eat some of the cost in hopes of selling buyers content later.

$99? No, it won’t be $99. For one thing, that’s cheaper than a Kindle. (Disclaimer: I suppose it’s possible that Amazon will sell a tablet with some sort of contract or subscription that requires buyers to pay for content. In that case, $99 isn’t an impossibility.)

It would have to be attractive. A thin 7″ device with a Super AMoLED display might help – especially when packaged with Amazon’s MP3 cloud library, Movies, Kindle books and Android Apps.

Amazon’s 7-inch tablet PC, which is supplied by Quanta Computer, is expected to start shipping in October. Mass production of Amazon’s 10.1-inch tablet will be conducted in the first quarter of 2012 with Foxconn Electronics making the device, says Digitimes. The 10-incher, codenamed “Hollywood” is expected to sport Nvidia’s upcoming “Kal-el” quad-core processor while the 7-inch “Coyote” tablet is expected to sport the dual-core version of Nvidia’s chip.

Amazon outsources its Kindle e-book reader to Foxconn with an estimated volume of 15-18 million units, accounting for 60-70% of global e-book reader shipments of 25-30 million units in 2011.

But people forget that the Amazon tablet will be a media hog (unlike the Kindle). The data connection is key — WiFi is just too inconvenient.

A cheap 4G connection, say $10-$20/month for 1-2GB/mo, seems necessary to attract a mass market. Newspapers and magazines may help subsidize the cost of the connection — along with Google, Microsoft and others.

Forrester expects Amazon to sell between three and five million units in Q4.

In its revised report on “media tablets,” iSuppli bumped up its overall growth predictions for all shipments, stating that 60 million tablets will ship in 2011, 1.1 million more than it originally stated. In 2015, it now expects annual shipments to reach 275.3 million, up from 262.1 million in its previous report.

Sprint: Show Us the Money

Sprint’s Strategy Update on Friday, October 7, is expected to reveal Sprint’s plans for 4G, the iPhone and partners such as Lightsquared. Clearwire has already chosen LTE Advanced as their technology of choise.

Engadget expects a “great story around 4G” this fall. The graphic seems to indicate an indoor/outdoor femtocell approach could also be announced.

Sprint is expected to make a “substantial” new investment in Clearwire, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. LightSquared already said they will pay Sprint $9 billion in cash and around $4.5 billion in credits for LTE and satellite equipment, while Sprint will provide network services.

Sprint has already pledged $5 billion to upgrade its network over the next three to five years. Sprint’s Network Vision brings together Nextel’s 800 MHz service, Sprint’s 1.9 MHz PCS cellular service, and Clearwire’s 2.6GHz 4G service on one tower. Lightsquared would likely be a part of this “Network Vision” as well. It should lower Sprint’s operational costs, especially when Nextel’s 800 MHz iDEN service moves to Sprint’s push-to-talk CDMA. Sprint’s tower density is pretty high because it relies on PCS frequencies.

I hope Sprint answers these questions:

  • Will Clearwire’s current WiMAX service be adversely affected?
  • Will Sprint and Clearwire split?
  • Why is teaming with Cable Operators a good idea?
  • Wouldn’t hosting Dish Networks 2.2 MHz satphone frequencies avoid interference issues?
  • What about 700MHz? Would you bid on “D Block”
  • How much 2.6GHz spectrum will Sprint wholesale and how much might they sell?
  • When will a 2.6 GHz TD-LTE “world phone” be practical?
  • What M2M and Telematics partnerships does Sprint have?
  • Where’s the cash coming from? Google? Microsoft? Amazon? Traditional Media?

For example, I suspect Clearwire’s approach to TD-LTE could cut current WiMAX range in half. Why? Clearwire currently uses different 10 MHz chunks for each sector (10MHz x 3 sectors) or 30 MHz total per tower. Some people have reported that Clearwire will re-use the same 30 MHz for combined TD-LTE and WiMAX service.

Instead of using different 10 Mhz chunks in each sector, Clearwire would reuse the same 10 MHz on each sector. For TD-LTE, they would re-use a different 20 MHz on all the sectors (10 WiMAX + 20 LTE = 30MHz) for the same combined total per tower. That decreases the current WiMAX range and capacity, doesn’t it? Particularly on the cell edge. How will Sprint and Clearwire handle that?

Sprint could announce their own dedicated 20 MHz chunk of 2.6 GHz spectrum for TD-LTE. That might be combined with the 30 MHz chunk from Clearwire, but it would also allow them independence from Clear. They could also announce a wholesale spectrum deal or virtual operator deals with other companies, such as TracPhone or MetroPCS.

What about Lightsquared? It’s an interesting $350 million spotbeam satphone platform (like ICO and TerraStar were).

But unlike ICO and TerraStar, Lightsquared has to battle with GPS interference. Isn’t Lightsquared more hype then reality? Where’s their satphone? Show us the money.

Sprint is teaming with Cablevision and it could broaden its relationship with Cable partners Comcast and Time Warner Cable in an infrastructure play. Cable could support strand-mounted LTE-Advanced femto cells. Alternatively, cable’s AWS spectrum (1.7/2.1GHz), combined with Dish’s MSS spectrum (2.2 GHz), may result in more (usable) spectrum at less cost. In this scenario, Sprint would be the virtual operator.

But Dish and Cable are like cats and dogs. A third party, someone like MetroPCS (with partners such as Google/Amazon/Microsoft) might use the 40-60 MHz of combined 2 GHz spectrum, nationwide. An operator with large AWS holdings – someone like T-Mobile – might be the best prospect.

Bottom line: It’s a good time for business restructuring. Selling excess 2.6 GHz could generate $2-4 billion in cash. A spun-off Clearwire could do the satellite deal with Dish on 2.1 GHz, but they’d probably need Sprint to manage telephony and at least one partner with deep pockets. Craig McCaw’s original plan for ICO, after all, was to provide terrestrial service. Maybe he’ll bring it back home — with Amazon.

A cable/Sprint partnership has synergy (unlike Lightsquared hosting), in that inexpensive TD-LTE relays might be hung from cable infrastructure. Cable could go TD-LTE with the iPhone while Sprint could address “dead zones”.

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