Alan Weissberger Wireless

Highlights of Sprint Developers Conference: Oct 26-28, 2010 Santa Clara, CA

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We will not offer opinions here or draw any conclusions on what we observed (and didn't see or hear) at this Conference. 

Conference Summary

I.  Paget Alves, President of Sprint Business Market Group said that Sprint would be putting more focus on business customers than in the past. In particular, Sprint would enable companies to securely connect with mobile workers..  They plan to identify industry sectors and target solutions to those vertical markets, which include: health care, retail, manufacturing, finance and professional services.  In addition, Sprint will be focused on improving two of their networks for business customers:  IP-MPLS VPNs and "4G" for mobile workers.

Investments will be in five major areas:  4G, M2M,Business Solutions, Wireless-to-Wireline convergence, and Sprint ID.

"4G" was proclaimed to be a "cut the cord" alternative for busines with video seen as the killer app.  For example, video surveillance and remote medical diagnostics are ways of coupling 4G with M2M communications.  Sprint claimed to be a leader in LBS/GPS services, but no supporting documentation was provided. 

Convergence involves seemlessly interconnecting fixed and mobile wireless networks with a global IP core network.  A fixed wireless campus network was seen as a viable replacement for a wired campus for enterprise and university customers.  Again, no details on how that wireless campus network was to be realized.  However, a Sprint employee provided me with the following information:after the conference:

Sprint is actively marketing this product today through Sprint’s Customer Network Solutions (CNS group). The concept is simple: many have found their internal 802.11 networks are overtaxed and planning expansions, sometime with 802.11n, sometimes with just more access points. Using 4G picocell technology, the CNS team can provide high speed data services in a building with between 5:1 and 10:1 less APs than WiFi. The enterprise controls the authentication of devices and the data stays local to the enterprise network (i.e. it doesn’t backhaul to Sprint/CLWR and then go back to the enterprise).

II.  Danny Bowman, President of Sprint's Solutions Group is "excited about M2M communications to improve people's live and improve enterprise productivity.  Because of the "unlimited possibilities" envisioned, Sprint has just opened a M2M Collaboration Center in Burlingame, CA.  (  30 new M2M partners will be working together to bring silicon and software solutions together.  The one that intriqued me most was a company called BodyMedia which makes a gadget that will monitor your sleep quality.

Danny highlighted the very bullish M2M market forecasts, which we have written about recently: Exponential Growth in M2M Market Dependent on Important Network Enhancements.

He said that electronic prescriptions could save the medical industry $27B and that remote patient monitoring could be a $1.1B market by 2013.  Other notable M2M examples cited were digital signage (said to revolutionize advertising) and connected vehicles including infotainment in cars.

III.  Todd Rowley, Sprint VP of 4G was very upbeat on Sprint's ability to handle the exponential increase in data traffic from smart phones, tablets, notebooks and netbooks.  While an iPhone consumes about 800M bytes per month, Todd predicted a future of 10+ G bytes per month for heavy duty wireless Internet users.  Sprint offers unlimited data to users of its "4G' network and there are no plans to impose data caps.  The Sprint 4G network will reach almost 120M people in 2010.  Sprint 4G is currently in 55 markets, which covers 63M people.  San Francisco and San Jose will be added by the end of this year.  In contrast, the Sprint 3G network covers 270 Million people.

Sprint/Clearwire together have four or five times more spectrum than their wireless telco competitors which enables them to offer more bandwidth to more 4G subscribers.  They claim 120 to 150 MHz of spectrum in each metro market served (using 2.5 GHz mobile WiMAX as the "4G" technology. vs the competition which has at most 30 to 45 MHz of spectrum (in lower frequency bands). As a result of all this spectrum, Sprint claims they can now support up to 420 M bits/sec of aggregate traffic per Cell Tower, with up to 840 M bits/sec per Tower in the future.

The following "Unique 4G Applications" were cited:

  • 2-way Video Conferencing (e.g. an X Ray being transmitted to a hospital or Doctor's office, while the Doctor's image and voice are transmitted in the other direction)
  • High Definition files, including full length videos
  • Live video surveillance
  • Simultaneous application viewing

4G M2M Applications identified were:

  • Video surveillance by the Annapolis, MD Police Dept
  • Remote diagnostics
  • Digital Signage
  • 2 -way Video Conferencing
  • WiFi Enablement
  • Resource tracing- including GPS tracking and receiving

4G was claimed to improve business productivity with new apps for vertical markets, including; virtual real estate, education, construction, health care, transportation, government and public safety, retail and insurance.

Two "personal hot spots" are the Sprint Overdrive and the Cradlepoint device.  They provide WiFi to 4G capability that enables any WiFi device or PC to access Sprint's 4G network.  The HTC Evo 4G and Samsung Epic 4G will connect to 4G if available and if not, fall back to 3G mode.  The screens on those phones were said to be "made for watching videos."

Session continutity and Location Based Services (LBS) were cited as 4G services available to app developers.

IV.  CEO Dan Hesse stated that Sprint was moving to an open platform and was planning a major initiative to help developers who create apps and content.  He said that Sprint was making six announcements at this conference:

1.  Browser based Value Added Services (VAS) powered by Openwave.  The objective is to deploy a new ecosystem of enhanced services within the browser.  Allowing developers to monetize and market application content to consumers and enterprise customers, the  Sprint Browser VAS ecosystem (from Openwave) will provide developers the tools they need to develop apps and value-added services that run in the browser.

2.  New Sprint  ID partners.   Announced earlier this month at CTIA, Sprint ID allows users to select, on one of three new Android smartphones, ID packs that feature apps, widgets, screensavers and more bundled in one convenient download. Up to five ID packs plus the My ID basic Android experience can be exploited to enable users to seamlessly move between experiences.  It gives businesses the opportunity to improve the productivity of their increasingly mobile workforces.  Mr. Hesse touted Sprint ID for the  search and aggregation of (Android based) apps.  He cited widgets, ringtones and "wallpaper" as examples and announced AOL and BodyMedia as new Sprint ID partners.

3,  Sprint Mobile Wallet was said to be the first mobile payment solution of its kind by a U.S. carrier.  Said to be an easy, secure way to buy physical and digital products using a Sprint phone, buyers use a universal PIN to make payments.  Developers can use Mobile Wallet to monetize apps out of the "walled gardens" of app stores, according to Mr. Hesse.

4.  M2M Collaboration Center in Burlingame, CA, where you can view the latest M2M technology, test new concepts/ideas and get support for commercial viability of your M2M application.  Danny Bowman's Emerging Solutions Group is dedicated to M2M and embedded solutions.  In 2011, a Command Center (a mini-NOC) will allow Sprint customers to monitor M2M devices from PCs at work or from a mobile device/ gadget.

5.  Enhanced Services Platform will provide direct access for all APIs via a single Web 2.0 interface.  It was described as a "seamless capability operating across all Sprint devices, including handsets."  3rd party value added services might include analytics, bar code scanning, and M2M prototypes.  This new platform was predicted to "make applications richer and more profitable."

6.  Communication Enablement will give 3rd party access to voice and messaging services (SMS).  A gaming console was cited as an example.   Voice and messaging continue to be among the most used services on a mobile device, yet they have seen little innovation in years.  Sprint’s goal is to enable third parties to seamlessly extend their mobile communication services using the Sprint platform. Imagine a social networking site integrating mobile communication preferences into its available features, an in-home gaming service providing in-game calling and messaging, or the ability to have mobile calling and messaging capabilities available to the individual on any connected device, even when you don’t have your device with you.

Sprint is also expanding the ecosytem for the developer community through open application distribution channels. There are brand name distributors for SMB/Enterpris (Dell, Cisco, UPS) as well as Wholesale MVNOs (Comcast, C Beyond, LEAP).

For more on these announcements, please see:  Sprint Announces New Sprint ID Partners, Sprint Mobile Wallet, Communication Enablement at 10th Annual Developer Conference   

Points to Ponder

We ask you to think why Clearwire was mostly absent from this conference and Sprint made no mention in its presentations that it was Clearwire (not Sprint) that was building out their "4G" mobile network.  This despite Sprint owning 55% of Clearwire and having 7 of 13 seats on Clearwire's Board of Directors.

You might also be curious as to why there are no 4G apps shown that take advantage of  inherent "4G" capabilities like optimized mobile video or QoS for high priority M2M communications or real time video conferencing.

And since Sprint refers to mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e-2005) as "4G" we wonder if the ITU-R approved 4G RANs (LTE Advanced and IEEE 802.16m/ WiMAX 2.0) will be called 5G by Sprint?

We will leave it to the reader to figure out the these mysteries from the 2010 Sprint Developer conference.

[Editor's Note: Sprint summarized what they view as key DevCon announcements in an 11/12/10 email to conference attendees.  They are listed below for the convenience of the reader].

Appendix: Sprint DevCon Key Announcements:

Author Alan Weissberger

By Alan Weissberger

Alan Weissberger is a renowned researcher in the telecommunications field. Having consulted for telcos, equipment manufacturers, semiconductor companies, large end users, venture capitalists and market research firms, we are fortunate to have his critical eye examining new technologies.

24 replies on “Highlights of Sprint Developers Conference: Oct 26-28, 2010 Santa Clara, CA”

Good article Alan.  

It looks like Sprint is looking for growth opportunities outside the consumer space.  Their are some interesting applications that a greater bandwidth wireless application will enable.  I could see where they could be a good back-up (I have an application that I am thinking would justify their service).  The applications as a better WiFi is even more interesting and it could be a way for them to break into a bundled package of services, in particular for small businesses.   

As you point out, it is interesting that Clearwire appeared to be an after-thought, given that they are building the network.  Also, as you have pointed out in other articles, Sprint doesn't seem to be concerned about optimizing applications for the WiMAX network and are solving the problem with bandwidth, which is relatively plenty for them, at least for now.    

For several years, Mobile WiMAX (never called “4G” by anyone in IEEE 802.16e Task Force) was INCORRECTLY referred to as WiFi on Steriods.  But the way Sprint and Clarwire are rolling it out is exactly that:  A longer range version of WiFi, with faster broadband wireless network access, but no QoS.  In other words, a fast, dumb pipe that is shared amongst all users assigned to a given Base Station. When any sector experiences a spike up in collective traffic, congestion will result and data caps will be necessary.

Seeing that there are only two native "4G" devices available – the HTC and Samsung smart phones- Sprint must try to court business customers for both enterprise communications and M2M apps
The personal hot spot concept will not cut it with consumers, because it's not really mobile. 
Sprint/Clearwire has missed the consumer mobile market and desperately needs to salvage their investment in Mobile WiMAX, while rest of the world adopts HSPA+ and LTE.

WiFi and 4G during the event was spotty, despite Sprint’s 4G network (and decision to hold the conference in South Bay — within 4G service area). Several expo hall booths had technical issues due to lossy connections. Each vendor used their own phone, and sometimes their own carrier other than Sprint — with Motorola booth folks admitting to not being allowed to use non-Motorola phones, thus having to manually read and type up barcode’s on an inventory of several dozen device giveways (rather than scanning them with the cornucopia of Android 2.1+ barcode app’s).

Clearwire/Sprint turn "4G" on in NYC (LA and SF scheduled to light up by end of 2010)

Clearwire and its investor/MVNO partner Sprint took their WIMax networks officially live in New York City today after months of offering service under the radar. The launch of the first commercial 4G network in the country’s largest city may be a significant milestone, but it’s one that Clearwire almost missed. Though Clearwire has a two year head start in 4G, it risked being not just the second, but even third, operator to offer 4G in the Big Apple.

Verizon Wireless is breathing down Clearwire’s next, promising to turn up almost as large a 4G footprint as Clearwire (110 million pops versus Clearwire’s 120 millions) by the end of the year, all within a few weeks span. Verizon isn’t the only one building a long-term evolution (LTE) network in NYC. MetroPCS is adding LTE networks to all of its CDMA markets by the end of the year, putting New York clearly within its sites.

Comment: The VZW and Metro PCS LTE networks should provide faster download speeds to users vs Sprint/Clearwire "4G" mobile WiMAX.    Clearwire was able to realize download speeds of up to 100 Mb/sec in its recent LTE trial in Phoenix, AZ.

The following quote is from an anonymous Sprint employee:
"There are several apps available in the marketplace that take advantage of 4G with video including video conferencing apps, streaming video and several public safety groups are using it for video surveillance. In addition, Sprint is currently running a 4G App Challenge with Wired magazine to encourage developers to create the killer 4G app. The winners will be announced in December."

Will Sprint abandon "4G" Mobile WiMAX now? Clearwire cuts workforce as new funding search continues
Clearwire has announced cost-cutting plans of up to US$400 million because it is still negotiating to secure funding it needs to expand its network after months of talks. Cost-savings of between US$100 million and US$200 million are expected by the end of this year and again in the first half of 2011, driven by a 15 percent cut in its workforce, delays in the launch of ‘Clear’-branded smartphones, a “substantial” reduction in sales and marketing spending (as well as the suspension of additional retail channel market launches in select markets including Denver and Miami), and the suspension of some site buildouts that are “beyond its current build plan.”
Recent reports have suggested the firm may be seeking to raise up to US$5 billion from the sale of spectrum in an auction that has already generated interest from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile), Time Warner Cable and Clearwire’s majority owner, Sprint Nextel. In September Reuters reported that Clearwire confirmed it is in talks with T-Mobile USA, which could lead to the US’ fourth-largest operator becoming an equity investor in the WiMAX network operator, alongside number three operator Sprint. Analysts believe Clearwire needs US$2 billion by the fourth quarter to fund its network construction early next year.

WSJ:  High Wire Act for Sprint
Sprint Nextel and Clearwire Corp. look like a married couple whose relationship is so doomed, they are already looking for their next partner. The reality is the cost of divorce will almost certainly keep this partnership together.
Meantime, though, as Clearwire seeks new funding for its 4G wireless network build-out, more ominous headlines will likely follow this week's. Thursday, Clearwire disclosed cash-conservation measures it is taking while it considers "strategic alternatives." Sprint, which owns 54% of Clearwire but doesn't have control, then warned Friday that a Clearwire default could trigger "cross default provisions" under its own debt agreements.
Chances are, Sprint will resolve Clearwire's funding needs by pumping in another $2 billion or so in the coming months. But it won't be an easy negotiation.
First, debt-laden Sprint isn't exactly flush itself. Yes, it had $4.7 billion of cash on hand at Sept. 30 and, according to Sanford C. Bernstein, should generate $1-2 billion in cash in 2011. But it needs to repay $1.65 billion of debt in January, more a year later, and also needs to pay for a 3G network modernization.
Second, it is a good bet the two companies are not exactly aligned on strategy. Sprint has said it thinks Clearwire should focus on building its 4G network, which Sprint and others lease for their high-speed wireless data services. But Clearwire is also building its own Clear-brand wireless service, with 163 retail stores. Sprint can hardly be blamed for not wanting to help finance a new rival.
That said, while Sprint has alternatives to using Clearwire for 4G, such a shift would be more costly than simply investing more in Clearwire. This fight will get resolved. But, as any bickering couple knows, both sides will need to compromise.
Write to Martin Peers at href=”[email protected]” rel=”nofollow”>[email protected]

Clearwire's financial problems have very negative implications for Sprint:
1.  If Clearwire can't raise funds to build out its WiMAX network, lack of coverage and availability will deter consumers from using it.  Then Clearwire and its MVNO partners, e.g. Sprint, Comcast, TW Cable might be forced to shut it down, rather than lose money on supporting a "4G" network that is declining rather than growing in users.
2.  If Clearwire sells spectrum to anyone other than Sprint, it will hurt Sprint's  competitive advantage of having more spectrum than other wireless carriers in major markets they serve
3.  If T Mobile buys an equity stake in CLRWR, Sprint's share will be diluted and they will have less strategic influence over Clearwire's buidouts and WiMAX features supported, eg. priority service. 
4. If T Mobile invests in Cleariwre, they would likely become a MVNO and sell "4G" WiMAX in some of the networks that Sprint now serves, offering direct competition for Sprint's "4G" WiMAX service.

Sprint Excludes Chinese Companies From Contract Over Security Fears
Sprint Nextel is excluding Chinese telecommunications-equipment makers Huawei Technologies and ZTE from a contract worth billions of dollars largely because of national security concerns in Washington. (The NY Times had indicated that Huawei was in the running to get a large wireless equipment order from Sprint)

The Defense Department and some U.S. lawmakers have been increasingly concerned about the two companies’ ties to the Chinese government and military, and the security implications of letting their equipment into critical U.S. infrastructure. Some officials argue China’s military could use Huawei or ZTE equipment to disrupt or intercept American communications.


Sprint, Clearwire Feel the Heat

Sprint owns a 54 percent stake in Clearwire, so Clearwire could be considered a subsidiary under certain loan agreements, it said in a Nov. 5 SEC filing.

According to the document, If Clearwire defaults, if could have a "material adverse effect" on Sprint, which is looking at ways to "eliminate the potential for Clearwire to be considered a subsidiary of Sprint."

Clearwire's ongoing funding woes have exasperated the already-strained relationship between the two companies. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and two of the company's top executives resigned from Clearwire's board of directors in September, reportedly on an "abundance of caution" over antitrust concerns.

The companies haven't reached an agreement over funding and disagree over their retail strategy. The industry is rife with speculation that Sprint wants Clearwire to cut its brick-and-mortar presence to focus on wholesale, but Clearwire doesn't want to depend on Sprint for new subscribers.

"Clearwire needs money to survive and Sprint wants them to do certain things like shut down retail and invest more capital in existing markets in order to get that money," says BTIG Research analyst Walter Piecyk. "So basically we have a high stakes negotiation and we are waiting to see who blinks first."

Clearwire's financing isn't the only wrench in the works. Sprint is dealing with an aging CDMA network that requires an estimated $3 billion modernization project. Defaults at Clearwire could trigger defaults at Sprint, potentially disrupting 4G services and forcing it to refinance its bonds, Piecyk says.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Christopher King predicts Sprint will have to buy the remaining 46 percent equity stake in Clearwire in the long term. "Sprint Nextel has no 4G strategy or spectrum without Clearwire," King says. "Simply put, Sprint Nextel needs Clearwire."

Clearwire's funding woes are a major threat to both itself and Sprint and could provide an opportunity for its competitors to catch up if they interfere further with network deployment plans.

Quoting verbatim from Sprint’s Nov 5th 10Q report to SEC:

If we are unable to improve our results of operations, we face the possibility of additional charges for impairments of long-lived or indefinite-lived assets. Further, our future operating results will be impacted by our share of Clearwire’s net loss or net income, which during this period of their network build-out will likely negatively affect our results of operations. In addition, Clearwire has disclosed as of September 30, 2010, that there is substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern. The carrying value of our investment in Clearwire may be subject to impairment.

We review our wireless and wireline long-lived assets for impairment when changes in circumstances indicate that the book amount may not be recoverable. If we are unable to improve our results of operations and cash flows, a review could lead to a material impairment charge in our consolidated financial statements. In addition, if we continue to have challenges retaining subscribers and as we continue to assess the impact of rebanding the iDEN network, management may conclude in future periods that certain CDMA and iDEN assets will never be either deployed or redeployed, in which case cash and non-cash charges that could be material to our consolidated financial statements would be recognized.

We account for our investment in Clearwire using the equity method of accounting and, as a result, we record our share of Clearwire’s net income or net loss, which could adversely affect our consolidated results of operations. Clearwire has disclosed it will be required to raise additional capital in the near term in order to continue its current operations, and that as of September 30, 2010, there is substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern. Clearwire’s inability to obtain sufficient funding to continue its current operations may have an adverse effect on its estimated fair value based, in part, on its publicly quoted stock price. A decline in the value of Clearwire may require Sprint to evaluate the decline in relation to Sprint’s carrying value of its investment in Clearwire. A conclusion by Sprint that a decline in the value of Clearwire is other than temporary could result in a material impairment in our consolidated financial statements.

Current economic conditions, our recent financial performance and our debt ratings could negatively impact our access to the capital markets resulting in less growth than planned or failure to satisfy financial covenants under our existing debt agreements. Moreover, Clearwire may be considered a subsidiary under certain agreements relating to our indebtedness.

Although we do not believe we will require additional capital to make the capital and operating expenditures necessary to implement our business plans or to satisfy our debt service requirements for the next few years, we may need to incur additional debt in the future for a variety of reasons, including future investments or acquisitions. Our ability to arrange additional financing will depend on, among other factors, our financial performance, debt ratings, general economic conditions and prevailing market conditions. Some of these factors are beyond our control, and we may not be able to arrange additional financing on terms acceptable to us, or at all. Failure to obtain suitable financing when needed could, among other things, result in our inability to continue to expand our businesses and meet competitive challenges. Our debt ratings could be downgraded if we incur significant additional indebtedness, or if we do not generate sufficient cash from our operations, which would likely increase our future borrowing costs and could affect our ability to access capital.

Thanks for a great article with superb follow up comments. 
Several industry savy people have suggested that Sprint should change its "4G" business model.  Drop mobile broadband sales to consumers and replace it with:
1.  Fixed wireless broadband to residential and small business users at a lower price than DSL. 
2.  In addition, mobile M2M apps that carry video and/or graphics, e.g. video surveillance, medical imaging, digital signage, etc
Mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e-2005) could be used to support both of these service offerings

(Reuters) – Clearwire Corp's recent "going concern" notice does not mean that Sprint Nextel Corp and its other partners would not continue to fund the company, the head of Sprint said on Tuesday.
Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse said the notice was an accounting technicality due to Clearwire having less than 12 months worth of funding left.
Clearwire, which is 54 percent owned by Sprint, said on Thursday there was substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern due to uncertainty over whether it could raise new funds.
"That doesn't mean that Sprint and other partners won't continue to fund Clearwire," Hesse told the audience at the OpenMobile conference here.
However, Hesse did not confirm that his company is actually prepared to provide more funding to Clearwire, which last week announced big cost cuts due to uncertainty over whether it would raise the funding it needs.

WSJ: Sprint, Clearwire In Dispute Over 4G Smartphone Pricing
Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and Clearwire Corp. (CLWR) entered into arbitration on a dispute over wholesale pricing for the 4G smartphones offered by Sprint.
The issue revolves around Sprint's 4G smartphones, the HTC Corp. (2498.TW) Evo 4G and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (005930.SE) Epic. Both can ride on Clearwire's 4G network, necessitating a payment from Sprint. While an agreement is in place, the two companies are interpreting it differently, Mike Sievert, chief commercial officer for Clearwire, said last week.
Clearwire disclosed the dispute in the company's quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week.
The move is the latest strain on the partnership between the two companies, who aligned to build the country's first fourth-generation wireless network. Along the way, the two have gotten into disagreements over the speed and location of the rollout, and whether Clearwire should be directly competing for customers in the same market.
On Oct. 29, Sprint initiated the arbitration process to resolve the issue.
A Sprint spokeswoman said the arbitration process was ongoing, but declined to provide any update.
"The resolution process is in the early stages, and its outcome is unknown," she said, adding the amount in dispute is not material to the carrier.
A Clearwire spokeswoman declined to provide any update.

The strained relationship between Sprint and CLRWR was very evident at the Sprint Developers Conference.  It has gone from bad to worse to terrible, judging by the comments above – all quoting from reputable news sources.

At this time, it seems that Sprint has to either buy all of CLRWR or sell their stake to T-Mobile, Intel, or whomever is willing to buy it.  Otherwise, the acrimony will reach fever pitch and the planned mobile WiMAX buildout in 2011 won't happen.

Good news for US WiMAX users:  Clearwire plans to raise $1.1 billion in debt to get its network build out plans back on track.  Probably won't be enough to complete 2011 WiMAX rollouts planned, but at least the company won't have to sell spectrum to raise cash- at least for now. Sprint, Comcast and TW Cable resell the CLEAR Wimax service under their own brand name- often packaged in a bundle with other services

Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless will accomplish in one weekend what it took Clearwire two years to complete: the launch of a 110 million-pop 4G footprint. Verizon’s LTE network is scheduled to go live this Sunday in almost all of the major cities Clearwire currently offers service, not to mention several others where Clearwire has no presence. Verizon has said it plans to aggressively expand that network throughout 2011, and launch its first smartphones before mid-year, putting pressure not only on Clearwire but its main reseller and investor Sprint, which is using WiMax to support its own high-speed smartphone service.

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