MWC day one roundup

Telefonica announces launch plans for Firefox OS
Telefonica made the first big splash of this year’s Mobile World Congress with the announcement of the Mozilla Firefox mobile operating system, which it will launch in Latin America and Spain from mid-2013. The company is lining up behind the open ecosystem, which it believes is the way to “bring balance back to the telco sector”, in CEO César Alierta’s words.
 
“[This year] marks the start of a new phase in our industry, one that will be characterized by open standards,” said Alierta. “For Telefónica and the telco sector as a whole, Firefox OS is a hugely important strategic initiative to change the prevailing value chain in the digital world.”
 
Sixteen other operators have also backed the new OS, including America Movil, Telenor and KDDI. The focus is currently on emerging markets, where smartphone penetration is still low – the operators are hoping that the open ecosystem will allow them to offer smartphones more cheaply, without having to subsidize expensive devices like Apple’s iPhone. In addition, the hope is that using Firefox will allow the operators to access the applications and services market that the existing ecosystems dominate.
 
Facebook partners with 18 operators for free access to Messenger and Every Phone
Facebook has also continued its march to dominate mobile by partnering with 18 operators, spread among 14 countries, to offer free or discounted access to its Messenger and Facebook for Every Phone services. Most of the operators are in emerging markets, such as Thailand, Bahrain or Brazil, while its partners in more developed markets such as Ireland or Italy tend to be challenger operators. This move should help it increase its reach among subscribers, and consequently generate greater revenues from advertising.
 
Huawei leaps from the starting blocks
Another big announcement was from Chinese handset vendor Huawei Device, which revealed that it earned global sales revenue of $7.5 billion in 2012, up 10% over the previous year, on the back of 127 million devices shipped. Smartphone shipments meanwhile grew 60% to 32 million handsets, out of a total of 52 million.
 
To build on this result, Huawei is also launching a global brand awareness campaign, called “Make It Possible”, marking the brand’s emergence as a competitor to other vendors such as Apple or Samsung. It will be rolled out around the world throughout 2013, and builds on Huawei’s activities in 2012, which saw it establish over 5,000 retail counters in more than 45 countries.
 
 
Samsung partners with Visa for NFC payments
Handset vendor Samsung announced an agreement that will see it introduce Visa’s payment technology on its next generation of handsets, and speed the growth of NFC payments worldwide. Samsung will offer banks the ability to load payment account information over the air to a chip embedded on its devices, using Visa’s Mobile Provisioning Service. Samsung will also preload Visa’s PayWave applet onto selected NFC-enabled devices, which will allow consumers to add their Visa payment account information more easily. The pairing between the world’s leading handset vendor and the leading credit card provider should help speed the uptake of mobile payments via NFC-enabled devices, a market that is forecast to reach nearly 2 billion devices by 2017.
 
WAC comes back from the dead in a new guise, but is it doomed to fail again?
Full marks for persistence, but zero for execution, should be the verdict so far on operator efforts to roll out cross-network APIs to allow developers to access services such as billing and SMS on a one-stop-shop basis. First there was the OneAPI initiative to come up with a common standard for creating network APIs, which only got as far as rolling out in Canada. Then there was WAC, which tried to provide an aggregation point for OneAPI-compliant APIs, but was wound down last year and its assets sold to API-platform provider Apigee.
 
Now today we’ve heard that WAC is going to come back to life in the guise of the OneAPI Exchange, powered by Apigee. This later incarnation will be a bit more pragmatic realistic and will work with whichever APIs operators have rolled out, regardless of whether they are OneAPI-compliant or not. But it is currently in the working-proof-of-concept stage. It is planning to launch an identity API in 2Q13 and a payment API later in the year. It is still unclear how many networks will be on board with these initial rollouts. Meanwhile, some operators are seeking to offer cross-network APIs within their territories by tying up with aggregators that are already connected to all local networks for things like SMS and payments. In the face of operator inability to get fully behind multilateral initiatives like WAC, taking such shortcuts seems like the only feasible option for cross-network rollouts right now.
 
Francesco Radicati is a research analyst with Informa Telecoms and Media. For more information, visit www.informatandm.com/

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