Industry News

How a smartphone manufacturer you’ve never heard of is making Samsung nervous

Huawei

Huawei — unknown to most US customers — has most major telecom operators as clients of their networking equipment. But the Chinese company also has its hands in the consumer smartphone market and while China’s smartphone market is slowing, Huawei is growing in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. In the second quarter of this year, Huawei became the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. The company’s shipments were 95% greater than last year.

In an insightful interview with the Wall Street Journal, the head of Huawei’s consumer business group address why the company got into the consumer smartphone market and what their advantage is:

There are many other brands that are also providing very good products, and some are better-known brands than Huawei. But we are a telecom equipment supplier. We build communications networks around the world, both fixed broadband and mobile broadband networks. Because we have that technology, we can make our mobile devices work better when they connect to the networks. We think we can support the latest network technology better than other handset makers. This is the value we can bring.

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Sprint’s incoming CEO proved himself with Brightstar

Marcelo-claureBrightstar doesn’t have any stores or branded products of its own but that never stopped them from racking up 200 mobile operators in 50 countries as clients. Brightstar “can take care of their phones and other devices all the way from the factory, to the warehouse, to the store shelf, to trade-in and recycling or resale,” said a recent piece in PC World. Marcelo Claure founded Brightstar in 1997. He’s now moving to the top position at Sprint.

Claure shaped the success of Brightstar by knowing the company had to get involved in the details of the carriers’ business. The company can handle all the non-core details for the carriers from insurance to complicated financing plans.

“[Claure] realized, right when the wireless industry was exploding, that a dedicated distribution company could provide [those services] more cheaply and efficiently—for him, profitably—than the carrier could do themselves,” said analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.

With his background, Claure appears to be an excellent choice for Sprint who is focused on competing with rival T-Mobile instead of trying to purchase the fourth-place carrier.

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Sprint offers “carbon negative” iPhone accessories

pinkhoneycombSprintAirCarbonSprint has become the first carrier to begin offering “carbon negative” phone accessories. Starting with cases for the iPhone 5 and 5s, these accessories are made from waste greenhouse gases instead of petroleum.

According to greenbiz.com:

The main ingredient in the cases, AirCarbon, comes from startup Newlight Technologies, which calls its product carbon-negative, even after production and end of life are taken into account. The company uses carbon dioxide or methane from farms and landfills as well as from wastewater treatment and anaerobic digester plants. AirCarbon “can then be formed and molded into almost any given design,” it says.

Sprint has been focused on sustainability recently. The company overhauled its cell phone buyback and recycling program last year and has worked to develop ratings for more sustainable phones. Sprint’s director of corporate responsibility, Amy Hargroves explained the AirCarbon accessories and Sprint’s overall perspective:

“There isn’t one option that is going to change the world. Instead it takes a combination of efforts and innovations to collectively create change,” Hargroves said. “We like this option because it removes greenhouse gases from the air — the key contributor to global warming…We aren’t limiting ourselves to just this one technology solution, but see it as a potential game changer.”

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uBeam promises wireless charging

uBeam

uBeam recently announced they have a fully functional prototype of their wireless cellular phone charger ready to build for consumers. uBeam’s approach is unique in that is converts electricity to sound and sends that signal over the air via ultrasound. The inventor Meredith Perry spoke with the New York Times about the difference this makes:

“This is the only wireless power system that allows you to be on your phone and moving around a room freely while you’re device is charging,” Ms. Perry said in an interview. “It allows for a Wi-Fi-like experience of charging; with everything else you have to be in close range of a transmitter.”

uBeam charging stations will be thin enough to be tacked to walls like wallpaper. Though external receivers will be available, uBeam promises to change the way phones are designed.

“If wireless power is everywhere, then the size of your battery can shrink because it’s always charging.” Ms. Perry said. “You’ll never need a cord again, and you won’t need international charging adapters.”

uBeam products will be available in two years.

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Fitbit becomes the first activity tracker on Windows Phone 8

fitbit

The standard rollout for internet devices has become: launch iOS version and launch Android 6 months later. Windows Phone apps are often not considered until much later.

Fitbit is breaking with that pattern by launching a Windows Phone 8.1 version of their app will the full feature set of the iOS and Android version. Gigaom reports on the reasons for this move:

When a startup gets bigger it starts looking into expanding its potential market. At that point Windows start making more sense, especially if you’re eyeballing Europe where WP8 penetration is higher thanks to Nokia’s former presence.

Becoming the only activity tracker for Windows devices is certainly an added incentive. As the market for those devices becomes more crowded, comapnies will look for any way to distinguish themselves.

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Rainforest Connection uses recycled smartphones to stop illegal logging

rainforest-connection

According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 17% of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Furthermore, a study by Interpol revealed that between 50% to 90% of logging is illegal. Rainforest Connection has created a unique approach to combating this problem. Recycled smartphones, powered by solar panels and resting high in trees, listen for the sounds of logging and then report the location to rangers patrolling the forests.

Topher White, co-founder of Rainforest Connection, explained their operations to TechRepublic recently:

“We wanted to avoid building new things and focus on things that already work [and] focus on things that can scale,” White said.

The first tests have only used Android phones (some that are up to five years old) but White said they plan to use others in the near future. Through the Rainforest Connection website, people can find out how to send in their old smartphones. The team will retrofit it and use it for the cause.

Re-using smartphones was an easy decision since so many are available to be repurposed:

More than 150 million [smartphones] are thrown away in the US each year, destined to pile up in landfills around the world, leaking toxins and polluting the environment. Most of these rainforests, no matter how remote they may be, have phone service — or at least, enough to send data into the cloud and to the village nearby. And mobile technology as a whole is very robust and durable, so it offers a reliable solution for this problem.

Rainforest Connection’s initial project was crowdfunded through a Kickstarter campaign. Along with rethinking how we repurpose technology, the group is reshaping how individuals can impact global environmental issues.

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iPhone 6’s sapphire displays may be limited

IPhone_5S_wordmark

Apple’s iPhone 6 was supposed to introduce a new, tough display of synthetic sapphire but “bottlenecks at various levels” of sapphire production may lead to a shortage of displays or complete scrap of the plan, reports Network World.

Apple, and its sapphire furnace partner GT Advanced Technologies, have been adding capacity and ramping up sapphire production at a new factory in Mesa, Ariz. But they face challenges because of the sheer scale of creating sapphire covers for millions of smartphones, possibly in the two sizes that Virey says Apple will introduce later this year: with 4.7- and 5.5-inch screens. Sapphire is second in hardness only to diamond, so sapphire smartphone screens would be more resistant to scratching and breaking than even the treated glass, such as Corning Gorilla Glass, used today.

The plan is ambitious and revolutionary in providing more damage-resistant displays with superior resolution. But with an estimated output of 5 million displays per month and a current capacity of 2.1 million displays, Apple may have to delay or scrap the program. The last time Apple sold a mere 5 million phones in one month was in 2009. In October and November of 2013, Apple sold 51 million iPhones. It is possible that Apple could limit the sapphire display to one model iPhone to gauge consumer interest.

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Deutsche Telekom Says No Offers Beat T-Mobile’s Standalone Value

Hoettges-Timotheus2jpg

As reported by Bloomberg earlier this month, Deutsche Telekom CEO announced that:

“We’re open to a transaction that creates value for all T-Mobile US shareholders, compared with continuing the business on its own,” Timotheus Hoettges said today on Deutsche Telekom’s earnings conference call. “Right now, there’s no such offer on the table.”

Urging that U.S. regulators consider blending phone and cable industries, Hoettges was concerned that the FCC is moving in the wrong direction.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, said yesterday that “four national wireless providers is good for American consumers.” Hoettges responded that yesterday’s slump in share prices of Sprint and T-Mobile “couldn’t have been a clearer signal” that such thinking damages the smaller operators.

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The mobile industry is about to become unbundled

virgin-data-660x495

WIRED reports:

On Wednesday, Virgin Mobile and Sprint announced a new mobile-phone data plan called Custom, a prepaid family plan that lets users grab as much data as they want from either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest for just $12 a month. For $22 a month, they can get unlimited access to all four. And for an extra $5, they get unlimited music streaming too. It’s undoubtedly an attempt by the two companies to grow their market share and lure a lower income demographic to their services, but it’s also an early indicator that the telecom industry is about to get the Netflix treatment.

The comparison isn’t 100% accurate since Netflix sells a bundle of movies, television shows, and original programming but it is clear that the mobile industry is thinking outside the traditional plan. This is always a good thing.

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Giv is a no-contract provider that gives back

Mumbai_Guy_on_phone_November_2011_-2-5_CloseupNo-contract mobile providers are growing in number. (They should encompass 50 percent of the market by the end of 2015.) The market is getting further disrupted by a new provider that donates to charitable causes with every plan:

Giv offers two “Unlimited Everything” plans that start at $40 per month, compared with companies such as AT&T that have unlimited plans starting at $100 per month. The provider donates 8 percent of individual phone plans to charities of the customer’s choice.

In an industry that is constantly changing, Giv makes a unique impression with their charitable offerings.

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