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Cell Phone Industry's Six Biggest Failed Schemes 163

Posted by timothy
from the modu's-idea-was-pretty-cool dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "The tech world is for dreamers, schemers, and sometimes, scammers. Which is why it's no surprise that the cell phone industry isn't any different. In wake of the recent news about the Israeli mobile-phone firm Modu shutting its doors, mobile analyst Sascha Segan revisits six major failures in the cell phone industry, from using phones to create a peer-to-peer that would eliminate the need for wireless carriers to a company with a $225,000 phone."
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Cell Phone Industry's Six Biggest Failed Schemes

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  • by choongiri (840652) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @08:07PM (#34900526) Homepage Journal

    Is it really too much to ask the /. editors to quickly look around the page for the crud-free one-page "print" version link and post that for us all instead...

    http://www.pcmag.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=259387,00.asp?hidPrint=true [pcmag.com]

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 16, 2011 @08:11PM (#34900552)
      For one thing, the outrageous charges for text messages. Or making sure that every aspect of you using your phone gets the last little second out of you so that it takes away from your total minutes. Or not having phones that function as answering machines simultaneously as voice mail....the list goes on. They are really taking consumers for a ride.
    • Meh, in this kind of article the images are nice to have.

    • by c (8461)

      I'd ask the slashdot editors to screen TFA content, too. If those are the industries "Biggest Failed Schemes", I'd say they're doing pretty well. Nothing like an "Enron" in that bunch...

      • Nah, just a bunch of scammers trying to bilk their investors. Heck, the fact that some of them were issued patents means nothing seeing as how they issue patents for just about anything these days. Nothing to see here.

      • by arivanov (12034)

        Yeah, right... An article about failed "get rich quick" schemes in the cell phone industry that fails to mention:

        1. WAP/WML and the players around it some of which had valuations exceeding the valuations of major carriers at some point.
        2. iMode outside its native Japan
        3. And the fairest of them all - IMS/PCRF/EPC and the 3G/LTE VAS model which was supposed to pay back for all those license investments. 60Bn in Germany alone with 0 payback from what was supposed to be the primary revenue generator and all re

        • by c (8461)

          Ah, thank you. I thought it was a pretty weak list of some dipshits and their non-existing devices and/or business plans.

    • by Pinckney (1098477) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:12PM (#34900900)
      I'd really rather if they not do that. If it becomes standard to link to the print version of articles, sites will just remove the print option entirely. As it is, we, who care, get to enjoy these articles in a relatively clean form for minimal work, and the people who don't care effectively subsidise us (thanks!) with their ad impressions.
    • by _KiTA_ (241027) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:21PM (#34900976) Homepage

      Is it really too much to ask the /. editors to quickly look around the page for the crud-free one-page "print" version link and post that for us all instead...

      http://www.pcmag.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=259387,00.asp?hidPrint=true [pcmag.com]

      So you'd like Slashdot to intentionally screw PCMag out of ad revenue for the (not insignificant) amount of traffic /. brings to their website, making it likely that PCMag's web gurus will block such outside linking to the print version, disable the print version outright, put themselves behind a pay filter, or go out of business (something that plug-ins like AdBlock are already working on doing)?

      Yes, no one likes ads. But to quote the snob -- "websites is expensive".

    • by jeff4747 (256583)

      That would be a fantastic way to have web sites eliminate the "print" version altogether.

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @08:25PM (#34900632)

    What it really comes down to is that most of the good ideas in cell phones (a) have been done already or (b) are waiting for technologies in other areas to advance first. All those other not-so-good ideas have extremely limited appeal to the masses. Yet people and smaller companies continue their attempts to "innovate" in this marketplace, primarily because there appears at first glance to be such a huge amount of cash sloshing around in the cell phone arena. As it turns out, though, that money is pretty much locked up by the major players, so your Popeil-esque Great Idea But On A Cell Phone This Time is going nowhere.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      I've always said to my friends that cell phones as a business and technology aren't really worth being used seriously until you can get worldwide unlimited everything (sans data) for $50/month. It's ridiculous that you have to pay $0.10 a minute or something to telephone granny in Scotland. We should be way past this point now, but greed and little reason for expansion has greatly slowed this down.

      Maybe one day satphones will be cheap enough (service wise) that they're a viable option. It'd be awesome to se

      • by cgenman (325138) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:38PM (#34901058) Homepage

        Cell companies are probably going to get hit by data-anywhere aggregators + VOIP plans. I loved how you could drag a Vontage phone to any country in the world, and make VOIP calls as if you were local to your city, Oklahoma.

        They'll get hit, but from in front. Just like landline phone companies have been marginalized by cellphone companies, cell companies are about to marginalized by wireless data companies.

        • Cellular and Wireless are the same basic tech. Cells are Regulated Frequencies and Wireless is not. Cellular has larger range between "cells" while wireless is limited range between AP. Wireless is usually not managed well, while Cellular is (more or less).

          Other than that ... you may be right.

      • "It's ridiculous that you have to pay $0.10 a minute or something to telephone granny in Scotland."

        I recall paying $2.00/min to call the UK from Australia, that was in 1976 dollars, ie: almost one weeks wages per hour.
      • I've always said to my friends that cell phones as a business and technology aren't really worth being used seriously until you can get worldwide unlimited everything (sans data) for $50/month.

        You're approaching it the wrong way - get an unlimited data plan and put Skype on your phone, and you can talk to your granny all you want - today.

        • I would, but it's cheaper for me to get 800 anytime minutes, unlimited evenings/weekends (6pm-7am), and unlimited north-american long distance (from anywhere in Canada to anywhere in Canada, the US, and Mexico).

      • I keep wondering why someone with, for example, Vodafone UK has to pay roaming charges when calling on the Vodafone NL network. They're the same fucking company! The call itself is routed through voip for cost reasons anyway, so the cost difference can be minimised.
        • by mcrbids (148650)

          Vodaphone UK is NOT the same company as Vodaphone NL. Though it's still pretty lame that they haven't set up peering...

    • I'm not getting even that from the article. I was hoping I'd go there and see some serious (if possibly misguided) attempts at innovation, but it turns out that at least half of them were never meant to be more than a scam in the first place.

      The Peep guy for example seems to be a character who made a surrealistic string of companies punting surrealistic and often blatantly impossible products, especially where there were grant money to be won, but never actually had more of a product than some faked videos

  • If it was based on open standards and software rather than some guy's proprietary system looking for venture capitalists.

    I cant wait to see the day that scumbags like Vodafone and AT&T&T are no longer necessary
    • by commlinx (1068272)
      Main problem I'd see with this from a practical point of view is reduced battery life. If your phone was spending a good deal of time acting as a repeater the standby time would be similar to current talk times.
      • While Peep Wireless seems to be a scam, Serval's Batphone shows some promise. Their working prototype [villagetelco.org] was a port/hack of asterisk, batmand, sipdroid and their own Distributed Numbering Architecture software all running on an Android phone. Also all their source code has been released under the GPL.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:37PM (#34901050) Journal
      P2P would(barring some very clever design or a focus more or less exclusively on walkie-talkie use cases) likely be a poor candidate for cell phone use(lousy latency, uncertain availability, battery life of nodes...) P2P works pretty well for cheap transfers of big files; but somewhat less well for low-bandwidth, but latency sensitive, stuff.

      The system that I would like to see would be a radically free market(and thus, likely never to be seen in the cellular arena) system of phones that electronically bid for resources in real time, from carriers within range who dynamically compete for customers in real time.

      Consider a basic example: I have a cellphone with a GSM module that can see two or three carriers' towers, and a wifi module that can detect a number of access points. I open my address book, or start typing in a number. Detecting that I am going to be making a call, my phone checks the rate information being broadcast from the wireless links visible to it: it then silently routes the call out through whichever offers the lowest rate. In order to prevent surprises, the user could, of course, set "absolute ceiling", "manual verify", and "warn but continue" price thresholds within their phone's bidding engine. Towers, for their part, could dynamically adjust prices, down to the operator's set floor, in order to keep themselves busy but not over-saturated.

      Data would be handled in a similar manner: cell towers and wifi access points could broadcast their willingness to provide, and rate(at home, of course, your router would treat you as a special case of free access, to ensure that you always used the bandwidth you had already paid for, and applications requiring data could choose based on price.

      Since most people would not want to trouble themselves with the details, phones would, ideally, ship with some sensible defaults and a few heuristic rules(ie. if I almost always make long calls to contact X, and very short ones to contact Y, select a carrier for contact X based on lowest expected price for a long call, and select a carrier for contact Y based on lowest expected price for a short call). For those who did wish to dig deep and twiddle all the knobs, the tools for expressing and solving optimization problems in multiple constraints to computer systems are not exactly terra incognita. The real propellerheads could have their handsets algorithmically trading off between lower and higher power-requirement connections based on batterly life and location/time based estimates of next charge, and whatever other variables they felt like including...
      • by DCFusor (1763438)
        Amazingly good idea, easily feasible, but that assumes free markets instead of "the best law money can buy", eh?

        Of course you've only handled the originating side of the call here - both sides need handled.

        This tech solution would develop quite rapidly if we solved the social problem, first.

        • It seems like a huge number of potentially interesting technical solutions have a messy social problem sitting in their way.

          In wonder if that is the real reason why engineers are statistically more likely to be driven to extremism? All those elegant systems, and models, and protocols, being sacrificed on the altar of shareholder value by besuited simians...
      • by ami.one (897193)
        Maybe, the chinese phones with 3 SIM slots can be used to do such a thing without requiring the networks to decide. These phones have 2/3 radios & sim slots - they all work simultaneously - you can receive any call from all 2/3 nos and set a preference or select one while dialing out. People have 2 or 3 sim card phones and select which no to use to dial out depending on tariff etc. Quite common in India/China/etc Though i personally never liked having 2/3 nos or worrying so much about call charges, b
        • by mlts (1038732) *

          I'd love to see that technology become common in the US for a completely different reason, and that is to separate work data and home data. Combine this with virtualization, and this would be great for people who use their devices for work and home stuff. Leave a job and the IT staff sends a self-destruct signal? It only gets rid of the work based VM.

          Done right, it can be made decently secure as well.

          Of course, having the ability to switch SIMs for one machine is cool too, not just for cheap call rates.

          • Can hope that LTE gets delayed enough, then... in Canada, the two big CDMA networks have begun implementing an HSDPA+ network, and are selling phones that support CDMA *and* HSDPA+. I bought my current phone outright from Telus (CDMA/HSDPA), unlocked it, and put my Rogers SIM card in it (they're GSM/HSDPA only... it's a better phone than anything they had). When/if I switch to Telus or to Bell, I can simply put one of their SIM cards in the phone.

            It doesn't do anything to address the crappy plans that're av

      • The problem with your idea is that the data is actually very cheap. If you just want data transfer, you can get it for almost nothing - especially over the WiFi. When you make a mobile phone call, you pay for two things. One is a set of jitter and latency guarantees, the other is the call termination. It costs me about the same amount to call a mobile phone from my mobile as it does via WiFi/SIP on my phone, because the data cost is almost nothing, the termination (routing to POTS) cost is all of it.
      • by jambox (1015589)
        >> P2P would(barring some very clever design or a focus more or less exclusively on walkie-talkie use cases) likely be a poor candidate for cell phone use)

        Well I'm no expert but there are live video streaming protocols using P2P such as SOPcast; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P2PTV [wikipedia.org]. Works well; the more people watching, the better the stream :).

        Wouldn't that sort of thing work for mobile phones?
    • Unless you've got some magical routing protocol up your sleeve, yes it is a bad idea.
      • by ePhil_One (634771)

        Unless you've got some magical routing protocol up your sleeve, yes it is a bad idea.

        The way I understood it, you basically piggbacked on top of the existing infrastructure. So I set a base station up in my house connected to the internet, and so did you. When I was at home, my phone used my station direct to any endpoint I wanted, when I was near your house, it used your station direct to any endpoint. If I wasn't near any, it didn't work. Works in theory if you get enough users, but who covers highways, restaurants, and office buildings? Dropping cell rates have really undercut the market

  • 10c text messages (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @08:47PM (#34900774) Journal
    You'd think when they charge you 10c per text message, that'd be something people reject. Especially when any random stranger can send you spam which you have to pay for.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      I'm truly surprised nobody has launched an ad-supported (they would call it "free") texting-only service. Probably the most expensive-per-byte plan out there is AT&T's $15/mo plan which has only 200 MB/mo. But assuming a text averages 200 bytes, that would be 1,000,000 texts. So if an ad-supported user sent 1000 texts per month, you'd only have to collect 1.5 cents from advertisers to recoup bandwidth at the same price per byte. Somewhat more if you wanted to subsidize the cost of the phone. But y
      • by tkprit (8581)

        between now and then a lot will change, but NOW... if your kid(s) have an ipod touch (not phone just touch)

        (and believe me w/ iPhone coming out on other carriers, my kids are looking to pawn off their Touches for like a buck!)

        iPod Touches can already sms text like that with free applets (text free, textnow, etc), all they need is wifi and the Touch. (And again, I strongly believe that as kids dump their iPod Touches PLUS cell phone for just an iPhone, the iPod Touches will decrease in value rapidly. jmho.

      • Re:10c text messages (Score:5, Informative)

        by jeff4747 (256583) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:16AM (#34902012)

        Text messages aren't sent over the data channel.

        Oversimplified version: Text messages are embedded in normal GSM packets. Most of these packets are essentially "are you there" messages and are sent frequently between the device and the tower. "Are you there" doesn't fill an entire packet. So cell phone companies came up with SMS to fill the rest of the packet. SMS is essentially free for the cellular providers to handle because it's using part of the timeslice that would otherwise go to waste.

        So you won't need to worry about wireless bandwidth costs. If the device can attach to a cell tower, it's got all the bandwidth it needs for SMS.

        • by kyz (225372)

          Sorry, the oversimplified version is confusing and misleading.

          Text messages aren't sent as an extension to messages that would've been sent anyway. They're sent in contention with very important messages like "you have someone calling you", and if not carefully managed can overwhelm the capacity of the cell tower.

          A cell tower's connection to the hard-wired telephone network has one "control channel" [wikipedia.org] and multiple data/voice channels.

          SMSes go on this control channel.

          This one control channel is shared by eve

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            True and not true. Yes, this is how GSM SMS works. Then the carriers noted they made tens of millions in revenue on SMS, which obviously lead to concerns on the sustained growth of this business. So, by the time GPRS was designed, SMS no longer was an afterthought but a prime source of revenue. And starting from the GRPS standards, SMS can be sent via the data channel too. And there it does compete with other packet-based services such as IP. That's not free, obviously, but the SMS prices could be in line w

          • by timeOday (582209)

            So sure, back when signalling channels were mostly empty, people thought "why not put text messages on them". They now rue their decision and text messages' massive popularity overwhelms a signalling channel not really designed for them.

            There's no reason the messages in my hypothetical service would have to be true SMS messages. I think making SMS separate from email (in the manner you described) is just a holdover from the early days when cell networks were designed mainly to carry voice. It seems the

      • This is one reason I use Google Voice on my iPhone. When people text me, I get a notification via the GVoice app, and the text never comes to my phone's SMS setup. Google voice isn't the only such option, but it's the only one I know of which provides me with a phone number people can call as well and reach me on my mobile or land line.
      • I'm truly surprised nobody has launched an ad-supported (they would call it "free") texting-only service.

        To be followed by SMS based broadband data where advertisements are filtered as noise at layer 1.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm always amazed to hear you have to pay to receive messages in some parts of the world (America?)

    • by Peeteriz (821290)

      Find a way to get to some actual free market competition somehow. Here in Europe there are offers for unlimited plans at 15-20 US dollars/month, but I don't talk that much, and easily get average bills of something like 8 USD/month.

      There is no reason to charge 10c for a text message - I just saw here an ad targeted at teens on cheap/limited mobile plans, offering to subscribe to unlimited free SMS at something like 2 USD/month, and teens being teens, they'll probably send a thousand SMS for that.

    • by flatt (513465) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @11:30PM (#34901594) Homepage Journal

      You'd think when they charge you 10c per text message, that'd be something people reject. Especially when any random stranger can send you spam which you have to pay for.

      I believe the ridiculous rates for texting are proof that there is collusion in this market. Something with such little overhead (essentially none) should not be able to sustain such a high cost if there is adequate competition. I think people would reject it, if they had a choice.

    • by Frankie70 (803801)

      This seems to be a US-Specific thing. I don't think one has to pay for incoming text messages in most other countries.

      • by dafing (753481)
        You're quite right, surely the US has the worst communications tech in the developed world?

        I bought my first, Original iPhone (not sold in New Zealand) Jailbroken, for about 600 USD in full. I ran it on prepay, since I rarely use my phones for calls and txt messages, it would cost me....5-15 dollars a month New Zealand, lets say 10 US a month.

        My iPhone 4, bought here was just under 1000 USD, it is mine, I own it. Like basically all iPhones around the world, as in outside the USA, it runs on any GSM
      • They do it in Canada, too. $0.15 per incoming text, with most carriers. You pay extra to add text packages.

        It's not *quite* as bad as that, though... most voicemail/call display packages include a small number of text messages. 100/month is more than enough texts to cover accidental texts, and messages from people who don't realize you pay for texts. Upgrading from the entry-level plan to the next step up gets you 1000 texts/month, which is more than enough for most users. Additionally, most non-entry level

    • by he-sk (103163)

      Especially when any random stranger can send you spam which you have to pay for.

      Only in the US.

      When SMS came out they were free for the sender and the receiver. The CCC basically ran a data-push service in Berlin on top of it which was so popular it sometimes crashed the carrier networks.

      Only after the carriers realized the true potential of the technology did they start charging the senders. How American consumers put up with being charged at the receiving end is a complete mystery to me.

    • by wwphx (225607)

      ...any random stranger can send you spam which you have to pay for.

      Which is why all text messages, incoming and outgoing, are explicitly blocked on my phone. I got a new phone, new provider, new number in November and immediately started receiving text messages from people whom I did not know and did not want to know. I finally had the carrier totally block them, it rather annoyed me that I had to call them when I thought I was sufficiently clear when we signed up that I did not want any text messages.

  • Iridium (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Z8 (1602647) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @08:56PM (#34900822)
    They missed one of the biggest failures of all, Motorola's attempt to build a global satellite-based network [wikipedia.org]. It cost the company over $5 billion USD. Some more details here [74.220.211.32].
    • It's not a failure if it's still running. Financial failure perhaps but physically it's not broken. You can still buy and use the handsets today.
    • Re:Iridium (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:43PM (#34901082) Journal
      Iridium was a total clusterfuck for Motorola, who basically ended up paying many of the capital costs and then having to write off the whole thing.

      On the other hand, the (definitely in no way whatsoever US clandestine services connected, just like everybody else in McLean, Virginia...) group of private investors who snapped up a fully functional constellation for $25 million have been doing just fine with it.

      The moral of the story seems to be that there is absolutely no way that satellite phones can(in the face of cheap terrestrial calls) justify their startup costs; but if some sucker eats those for you in bankruptcy, it is a perfectly viable business....
      • ...snapped up a fully functional constellation for $25 million have been doing just fine with it.

        It's a trap?

      • Re:Iridium (Score:5, Insightful)

        by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:32AM (#34901826)

        Iridium was one of those projects that was a good idea in the beginning; however, by the time it came to launching it, nobody at the top had noticed that circumstances had changed. The idea was begun way back in the 1970s when a vacationing Motorola engineer wanted to make a call from the beach in the Caribbean. The thought occurred to him that he could use satellites to do it. The technology wasn't really ready but over the next few decades, Motorola worked on it in tandem with other technologies.

        By the time, the technology was ready, Motorola had worked hard on getting the necessary logistics of launching a satellite network. However, since the original idea, cellular phones were beginning to partially fulfill the need for communications. Now a cell phone can't go everywhere like the sat phone was intended, but it can be used in places most people will be, like in cities. In its estimation, Motorola (whose products helped launched the cell phone industry) badly miscalculated the numbers of customers that would have need for a sat phone compared to a cell phone. I think one place that they expected higher demand was Africa. However, in Africa, cell phones actually outnumber landlines because they are in fact cheaper than landlines to operate and build. The local populations buy mostly prepaid phones but only in the remotest parts would they need a sat phone. However, few can afford the nearly $1000 USD just for the phone itself.

        The problem wasn't that someone at the top should have recognized the situation had changed and that spending a few billion dollars or so when there were going to be few customers was foolhardy. I think part of it was that Motorola didn't know when to cut losses but went ahead anyway.

        • However, in Africa, cell phones actually outnumber landlines because they are in fact cheaper than landlines to operate and build.

          Translation: if you lay copper, thieves will steal it within a month.

        • by dafing (753481)
          Funny you mention the nearly 1K USD price, ha, my iPhone 4 cost me that here in New Zealand, I own it outright, which would any SANE person rather have, some bulky hunk of crap Sat phone, that talks back to Satellites, or, the iPhone 4, which can LISTEN to Satellites via GPS, oh, as well as having that marvellous build quality, thin, touch screen with INSANELY GREAT resolution, dual cameras, App Store...

          Nice one Motorola!
        • This sounds similar to Kodak's failure to understand how quickly and universally digital imaging would catch on. In the late 20th century they were consolidating their production lines and coming up with ever-smaller film formats because they imagined that the market for film would explode in the developing world countries. They couldn't imagine that digital cameras would become cheap (or free, with cellphone) and that everyone would have a PC to take advantage of digital images. Thus Kodak completely misse
        • by ePhil_One (634771)

          The problem wasn't that someone at the top should have recognized the situation had changed and that spending a few billion dollars or so when there were going to be few customers was foolhardy. I think part of it was that Motorola didn't know when to cut losses but went ahead anyway.

          When launched, 1997, the situation was quite different from today. You are arguing that they should have forseen the rapid pace of the cell phone industry. There was a market then, there still is a market today, and understand the decision they faced in 1997 wasn't "spend billions developing and building a global satellite phone network", it was lanch the satellites for the gobal satellite network we already designed and built for a hundred million or so or walk away from the project.Seeing as the network i

          • When launched, 1997, the situation was quite different from today. You are arguing that they should have forseen the rapid pace of the cell phone industry. There was a market then, there still is a market today, and understand the decision they faced in 1997 wasn't "spend billions developing and building a global satellite phone network", it was lanch the satellites for the gobal satellite network we already designed and built for a hundred million or so or walk away from the project.Seeing as the network is still in place and they are planning to launch more satellites, sounds like it was the right decision. Problem was Motorola chose to recoup its costs at the expense of its partners by charging high service fees to maintain the network, possibly intentionally bankrupting the original Iridium organization to lose the debt from the balance sheet.

            I don't argue that Motorola should have had a crystal ball for everything, but Motorola wasn't paying attention to an industry where they were making a huge portion of their profits. So let's look back to 1997. Cellular wasn't ubiquitous as it is today but a few things to note: Europe had already standardized on GSM. Motorola itself was hugely successful with it's own line including the StarTac. According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], in the developed countries, the adoption rate was already 18 per 100 inhabitants (Al

      • by nohear_t (551965)
        Iridium hardware was big and bulky to say the least. However, looking past it's failure Motorola did one thing that many people over look. They managed to stick to a schedule and launch satellites into orbit across multiple launch sites in different countries using three companies. They launched 66 satellites (plus 6 spares) in over 12 months which is VERY impressive with a 15/15 launch success rate. Motorola proved it was possible to launch that many satellites and hit their targets
      • Didn't the government foot the bill for that fiasco? If I'm thinking of the same failed satellite network, they sent a bill to the US government stating they didn't have to resources to pay for the satellites and would abandon them unless the government bought them. And, I'm pretty sure we did at a reduced rate.

    • Re:Iridium (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:59AM (#34901938)

      I was a Motorola engineer for 10 years (and a consultant for things related to them and Freescale ever since) and got to enjoy some involvement in Iridium. Hopefully I am remembering this ancient history correctly.

      It did not cost Motorola $5B USD. One of the things the Wikipedia article leaves out was all the foreign investment involved (Saudi Arabia had almost as much money invested into Iridium, IIR the Powerpoint presentation correctly) leaving Motorola's contribution/investment at about $400K USD with a total exposure of probably $1B, but they got most (if not all) of that back by paying themselves the other investors money for the design work. No-lose contracts are a nice way to do business if you can get someone to sign from the other side. The .pdf you linked to has some good historical information, but also some glaring errors which I am not in the mood to fisk.

      That said, Iridium SSC was a SNAFU from the start, as anyone looking at the map of world wide cellular coverage in 1997/98 should have been able to see. Since there are no records of the skepticism I put forth much earlier than that, I won't bring it up further. Of course, Motorola in 1994 still thought that analog cellular was the only way forward and was in the process of completely mismanaging the conversion to digital, so it isn't that surprising that the higher up execs missed it. The phoenix that arose from the ashes to enable the South Pole to get 28.8 kbaud and US DOD operators to be able to phone home without having to lug around 3-4 kg of satellite equipment is something I applaud the US bankruptcy laws for. Stupid money and big dreams can have good endings for someone. I will forever wonder how the US automotive industry would have fared if those same laws had not been interfered with.

      I was invited to sit in on one of the early presentations right when they made the decision to reduce from 77 satellites to 66. The presenter's manager didn't much care for my smart ass suggestion they rename the project Dysprosium (I doubt he ever had the geek cred to read /., but if he is reading this- HI!). I was also the guy who previously explained to them why the PowerPC 603 was a horrible CPU to use for a satellite and the guy who helped them redesign around the PPC604 after the managers woke up to just how important it is to have at least SOME level of cache checksums in hardware (a pretty reasonable requirement for anything floating around the earth, and which was why my coworkers and I were invited to the presentation). But it was a great joy to spend time at their design facilities right next to a dairy farm south of Phoenix. Fragrant.

    • by socsoc (1116769)
      Why would a story about cell phone failures have any mention of sat phones? That's being saved for the sat phone story.
    • Check out GlobalStar. A much greater fuck-up than Iridium. Their low orbit satellites started failing in 2007 which was after they were already bankrupt and sold off. They sell their phones with pamphlets stating "times you can use you phone in your area".

  • FTFA: ...full of shady characters with inconsistent documentation.

    In the mobile phone industry? Didn't see that coming.

  • Microsoft's Kin?
  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:34PM (#34901036)
    Reportedly MS has spent about a billion dollars on the Kin only to kill it after very poor sales. Part of the costs was the Danger acquisition (reportedly about $500 million), the engineering and R&D for 2 years. Then the marketing and launch costs. Numbers vary on actual sales but the highest estimate was about 10,000 units sold. In my book, that spells FAIL.
    • Seriously. I've never heard of Microsoft Kin.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not that Wikipedia is a citable source, but according to that and the Microsoft press releases that they note, the KIN was a prototype for the Windows Phone 7 interface, and the team working on KIN is now part of Windows Phone 7. This would imply that the KIN was not "killed," but merely "repurposed."

      We wouldn't say that Debian was "killed" by the release of Ubuntu either. It was "repurposed," into a general operating system for non-expert users. But the original remains. And they're still both based on

      • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:12AM (#34901736)
        From mini-microsoft [blogspot.com], one of the reasons that the Kin failed was politicol.

        Now there is spin that Andy killed kin to put all the wood behind Windows Phone 7. Er, the guy was in charge for two years of Kin development. He could have made this decision far earlier.

        Similarly Windows Phone 7 has two years of development under his watch. Based on his past performance, 99% chance this is also going to be a total catastrophe. It further doesn't help that much of the Windows Phone 7 leadership team was kicked out of Windows when they screwed up Vista.

        It sounds to me that Kin and Windows Phone 7 were completely separate products from different groups.

        • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:57AM (#34902342) Homepage Journal
          And yet Microsoft investors STILL haven't revolted and threw Balmer out. I just don't get it. The man has shown he lacks both technical vision AND managerial skill. From everything I have seen and from what ex Redmonders have said, Microsoft still seems to think it's the 1990s, ie the managers think that the only competition they face comes from within Microsoft. Thus they constantly bicker among themselves and Microsoft ends up with an inconsistent, often incoherent line of products.

          The phones are obviously the biggest example, at one point Microsoft was developing 3...THREE...different competing and incompatible phone operating systems. You saw it a couple of years back with the music DRM fiasco, Microsoft managed to develop and release 2 different DRM formats that weren't compatible with each other. You can even see the political infighting within single products. The windows UI is an incoherent mess. Every single interface seems like it was designed by a different person and instead of someone actually taking charge and making decisions they just threw everything together and called it an interface. You can even see this with Windows phone 7, it's obvious that different groups had different ideas on how the phone should be programmed and how what capabilities/interfaces should be exposed. And since none of the managers wanted to "submit' to any other manager, you end up with an incoherent mess. The whole reason we ostensibly pay CEOs ridiculous amounts of cash is that they are ostensibly supposed to be the one who steps up in these situations and forces everyone to play nice. It seems that Ballmer is either unable or unwilling to do this and Microsoft just keeps on going down the shitter. In the current recovery Microsoft seems to be one of the very few large US tech firms that has actually lost market cap, a lot of it. Ballmer is a talentless hack whose only "ability" was that he happened to land in the right place at the right time. Again, why share holders aren't calling for the man's head is beyond me. His only "talent" seems to be a penchant for stupid pranks, but guess what I can go down to any frat house in the country and find someone that is better than Ballmer at stupid pranks and pay them 1% of Ballmer's salary and they would be damn happy to get it.
          • by Carewolf (581105)

            I think you are right on many things, but about UI: Mac OS X has also recently changed their UI to be an incoherent mess, maybe Microsoft was just ahead of the times :P

            • True, OS X has gotten a bit messier lately but it wasn't the wreck that Vista was. In the end, Vista wasn't a bad OS; the problem was it was a bad OS in the beginning. After a few Service Packs and patches, it was usable. But many consumers were already turned off by that point. In retrospect, MS didn't do much different for Vista than their other versions of Windows. The problem for MS is that they got away with alot in previous versions and by the time of Vista, it all caught to them. Every new re

  • by kanto (1851816) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:51PM (#34901142)

    The Outcome: zzzPhone took some orders and shipped a small number of very low-quality phones. I heard crazier and crazier stories about Horowitz, all second-hand. For instance, he apparently hired a carver to make him a cell phone out of wood that he tried to insert working phone components into.

    I found that a bit funny because making one [interface.tut.fi] is a course at a Finnish university. More pictures here [yle.fi], but with finnish text only.

    I originally read about this in a magazine; apparently they solder the sim-card connecting leads so swapping operators requires some work.

  • The emphasis on one-hand use looks spot-on. I'd be curious to see a similar concept working up on some hacker-friendly smartphone (Maemo/Meego or Android).

"If a computer can't directly address all the RAM you can use, it's just a toy." -- anonymous comp.sys.amiga posting, non-sequitir

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