A Foolish Week of Telecom

Telecom followers know that once-dominant cell-phone producer Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) has badly fallen behind in the race for smartphone market share in recent years. So the Finnish manufacturer threw its lot in with Microsoft and developed a line of smartphones that would be powered by the software developer's Windows Phone operating system.

Nokia hoped its flagship smartphone, the LTE-capable Lumia 900, would be, if not an iPhone killer, at least competitive with the iPhone and the Android-powered smartphones.

But -- Wham! Pow! -- the big Lumia 900 introduction at AT&T retail stores got off to a horrible start. The buzz produced by Nokia's and AT&T's marketing turned into an embarrassing silence as a software glitch caused some Lumia phones to intermittently lose their data connection. Nokia scrambled to mitigate the damage by offering buyers of the phone a $100 credit.

If that weren't enough, Nokia issued a profit warning on Wednesday that its operating margin would be a negative 3%. This loss came from an unexpected place -- the emerging markets of Africa, China, India, and the Middle East, where Nokia was thought to have an unassailable share of the inexpensive feature-phone business. But sneaking in under the radar, for Nokia at least, were cheap Android smartphones from the likes of Huawei and others.

RIM bows to the east
Research In Motion
(Nasdaq: RIMM  ) has had its own share of woes, ceding the BlackBerry's once-towering market share to Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone as well as to Android handsets. But there's one area in this world that's still jonesin' for the CrackBerry, and that's the Middle East. RIM's managing director for the Middle East, Sandeep Saihgal, told Dow Jones Newswires that the company "saw a year-on-year growth of 119% from March 2011 to March 2012" in the region. According to Saihgal, "BlackBerry is the No. 1 selling smartphone now in U.A.E., Saudi [Arabia], Qatar, and Kuwait."

This doesn't look like an LTE launching site, Toto
Welcome to Kankakee, Ill. This small town, which lies 60 miles south of Chicago, is, according to the wizards behind the screen at Sprint Nextel's (NYSE: S  ) Emerald City HQ, acting as a test-bed for the carrier's LTE network. Fierce Wireless has noted that 2010 census data puts one-third of Kankakee's 27,537 residents below the poverty line. Sprint expects it will have LTE service up and running in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Baltimore, and Kansas City by mid-year. I'd say mid-year is only a couple of months away. Can Sprint get from Kankakee to Kansas City by then?

Two senators see the LightSquared
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are usually not seen agreeing on many things, at least not in public. But they both have seen the light, so to speak, on one particular subject.

"Advancing LightSquared's network in a consensus manner would increase competition in the wireless broadband market and promote the public interest," they wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, urging the agency to find some alternative spectrum for the company's proposed network. The letter was dated March 29, but it was obtained by The Hill on Tuesday.

Why are these influential politicians jumping into the middle of this after the FCC ruled in February that LightSquared's planned LTE network interferes with GPS receivers?

Maybe we can't put a fork in LightSquared just quite yet.

Is the U.S. wireless industry in decline?
Here is the state of U.S. wireless carriers according to investment-banking firm Jefferies & Company:

Over the longer term, we believe the wireless industry faces the twin headwinds of 100% penetration and, eventually, decelerating smartphone additions as the base reaches saturation. Voice revenues are already in decline. We believe a material drop off in the growth rate of data revenues from slowing smartphone adoption, particulary in 2H12, is a growing risk.

If the revenue picture looks as gloomy as Jefferies predicts, then how will our beleaguered wireless carriers survive? The next item will give a hint.

Nickeled and dimed and ... now?
OK, Verizon mobile subscriber, remember when your carrier tried to stick you with a $2 "convenience charge" for paying your bill online with a credit card? That bad idea got scrapped after only one day. But just when you thought it was safe to open your phone bill again, the company now has slipped something else into the envelope.

Let's say you've hung on to your old phone for the length of your two-year contract and are now ready to take advantage of the upgrade with special pricing. Hurray! But what's this? A $30 upgrade fee? To be fair, it hasn't been instituted yet, but it will be after April 22.

Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney said, "This fee will help us continue to provide customers with the level of service and support they have come to expect."

Verizon was the last holdout on charging an upgrade fee. AT&T and Sprint now charge $36. T-Mobile charges $18.

The pain in Spain ...
Investors drawn to Telefonica's (NYSE: TEF  ) 14% dividend, take note: The company will try to get permission from its shareholders to pay its dividend in scrip -- shares of stock -- instead of cash. To "offset" the effect of diluting the value of Telefonica shares, the company has said it will cancel its own treasury stock. That would account for 1.9% of Telefonica's shares. Telefonica, along with Spain, has fallen on difficult times. Its revenues fell 7.6% last year, and Spain's economy grew by only 0.7%.

Kind of like winning the lottery
Remember all that hype from the gigantic pot in the Mega Millions Lottery last week, the one that reached $640 million? I think I found one of the winners: It's none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook!

OK, not really, but Cook's total 2011 compensation was worth a mind-boggling $377,996,537, according to Fierce Wireless' list of the 10 highest-paid wireless CEOs.

But, of course, there's a catch. Cook made just a bit over $900,000 last year. The rest of that OMG! compensation was made up of a million restricted stock units, or RSUs, that won't vest for some years -- so as to ensure his "continued employment with the Company," as Apple's proxy statement explains it.

Unfortunately, according to Fortune, the IRS views those RSUs as money earned in 2011 and not being spread out over the 10-year vesting period.

That reminds me, I have to finish my taxes.

The telecom industry can be a dog-eat-dog place for income investors. To highlight some of most attractive dividend opportunities on the market, the Fool compiled a report detailing nine rock-solid dividends, which we made completely free for our readers. Access your copy today.

Fool contributor Dan Radovsky owns shares of Nokia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Nokia and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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