3GSM Oversight

From the Front Line: 3GSM report

The 3GSM World Congress is a huge, sprawling show in more ways than one; it covers a lot of ground in both senses of the word. But it’s unbeatable as a snapshot of where the global mobile business is right now – and where it’s going next.

So what were the more obvious highlights? Well, there was no truly blow-your-socks-off stuff at 3GSM. But we noticed some definite trends.

1 Last year it was mobile TV, which just goes to show that what captures the imagination of the mobile industry isn’t necessarily what the punters will pay for. There was again a lot of mobile TV products, services and infrastructure at the show – some good handsets in particular, notably the Nokia N77 designed to bring DVB-H to the masses.

2 Mobile email was another of last year’s trends that appears to be firmly mainstream now. This year the buzz about communication centred on mobile IM and to a lesser extent social networking. Everyone says the mass market is about to take off, though that will probably need big bucks and a major promotional campaign from someone like Yahoo or Microsoft to popularise the idea. At least there was a massive endorsement for IM in the form of GSM Association’s announcement that it will introduce standardised instant messaging — with unprecedented support from 15 of the world’s leading mobile phone operators, from China Mobile via Orange, Telefonica, T-Mobile, and Vodafone, to some of the smaller players. This is essential if IM is to work across different networks. This is definitely a huge endorsement for IM and a firm step in the right direction. The real challenge will be for the parties to now truly present a coherent and easy-to-understand proposition to mobile users.

3 Location-based services were definitely big on the show floor, with GPS embedded in more handsets and a lot of clever stuff going on at the software level. Here the talk was about tying mapping to search-for services, with a side order of location-dependent advertising – so you ask for a route to the centre of town and the map handily shows you all the MacDonald’s you might pass on the way. The handset makers are up for it; RIM, Motorola and Nokia all had GPS-enabled handsets at the show, and Nokia has promised that nearly all of its smartphones will have onboard GPS by the end of this year.

4 Just coming over the horizon is near field communication (NFC) – using handsets as mobile wallets or ID cards to pay for goods and services or to get into restricted-access clubs and the like. NFC does need an infrastructure of readers in cash tills before the phone can be used as a kind of bulky Oyster card, and the banks and credit card companies would probably have to be on board before NFC takes off.

5 Voice over internet was another notable presence. We homed in on the smaller guys like fring and Truphone — though it is relatively cheap to set up a VoIP service for mobile users. Implementing and supporting a common VoIP client across a variety of different phones can become expensive, which is why practically everyone is starting with Nokia S60 phones. The basic model is familiar from Skype – free calls to anyone with the same service, discounted calls to other numbers – with the addition of 3G access as an alternative to WiFi. But some major players are getting involved too, with Microsoft including a VoIP capability in Windows Mobile 6 (no need to install a separate client) and a number of handset makers showing or promising dual-function phones.

 
The N77 is both affordable and capable, and Nokia says it is intended to accelerate DVB-H mobile TV into the mainstream. The screen is just about viewable, colours are rich, there’s a dedicated TV key and onboard Program Guide, and there’s enough memory to record 30 seconds of video for replays.

 
A screen that can be rolled or folded still feels like the stuff of science fiction, despite several years of prototypes and coming-real-soon hype. But there it was at 3GSM – a foldable, rollable display. It comes from a company called Polymer Vision and the gismo on show was called the Readius eBook reader. It’s a 3G device with a screen that unfolds from a tiny square into a generous 5in display with a very reasonable image, currently black and white only though colour is promised for next year. Sounds weird, and perhaps needs some work on the product design side, but this could be the mobile phone display technology of the near future – it just stretches the possible applications for the phone into whole new areas.

3GSM STARS
• Omnifone’s MusicStation is an all-you-can-eat full-track mobile music service which allow users access to the world’s music from industry-standard mobiles for £1.99 per week. Omnifone sees MusicStation as a natural partner for the iPhone — and competition for iTunes.

• Boingo Wireless announced Boingo Mobile, described as the first global WiFi internet service designed for WiFi-enabled mobile phones and devices. For a monthly flat rate of $7.95, Boingo Mobile subscribers get high-speed access to more than 150 different WiFi networks in 60 countries around the world. The client is a free download, currently for Windows Mobile devices only.

• Truphone was one of several VoIP-for-mobiles suppliers which impressed us. It has just signed up with free-hotspot.com’s WiFi network – more than 700 hotspots in 14 countries across Europe. That brings the total to something over 4,000 access points (Truphone’s big deal in the UK is The Cloud)

• Exradia’s Wi-Guard is a chip that masks the low-frequency radiation emitted by a mobile phone’s battery and so removes the possibility of harmful effects. It can be fitted to a conventional phone battery; if the maker doesn’t want to do that, Exradia can sell you a spare battery with the chip installed.
It obviously works, in the sense that RF radiation is indeed masked, but of course there’s no hard evidence that RF from mobiles causes any problems at all. But that’s not really the point; Wi-Guard simply covers the possibility, and in particular would enable handset manufacturers to protect themselves against possible legal claims. Nice one.

fring is another VoIP service that impressed. It has just been certified by Symbian’s ‘Signed for Nokia Program’ to work on all S60 3rd edition handsets; Windows Mobile support is promised for two to three months’ time, with UIQ and Java to follow. fring also lets users talk and chat over Skype, Google Talk and MSN Messenger for free. “Our users will never receive a bill from us” said the fring bloke.

 
 
This was one of the more interesting ideas at 3GSM – and it’s British. Ok, Omego isn’t breaking new ground in trying to sell parents the idea that a function-specific mobile phone will help them keep in touch with (and keep track of) kids. But the solution is pretty neat – a handset that looks a little like a walkie talkie (made in Texas by a specialist kids phone manufacturer called Enfora) with two buttons and a Blackberry-style rocker wheel.
 
It looks fun for the very young, no mugger is going to want to be seen dead with it, and the responsible adults can specify which numbers can be called or texted by the phone – and which numbers can call it.

That’s all set at a security-laden website, so the phone will always be limited to those preset numbers. The website can also track usage, set spending limits, top up the phone, and program the thing to switch off at specific times (during school lessons, say).

Omego aims to launch later this year with a monthly subscription of £2.99 in addition to the network charges.

 
We came across this lovely little number on the Sweden pavilion – it’s a 3G all-in-one, combining fax machine, printer, scanner and copier with NiMH battery, triband connectivity and natty illuminated keyboard. It’s also called Greta. Shipments are scheduled for June 2007, but Hugh Symons has been named as UK distributor. Info from www.possio.com.
 
 
Ring2 Conferencing was one of those lightbulb ideas for a couple of management consultants — audio-conferencing run by BlackBerry. The result: an easy-to-use application that provides a secure conference-call environment without the need for fixed locations or PC controllers. The conference call manager can add, drop or temporarily suspend callers, hold or mute participants, and even record the conference as an MP3 file.

The audioconferencing market is worth $4bn a year, apparently, and most of that is hoovered up by PC-based systems or those dial-in services. But in many cases the conference call is required when one or more participants is away from their desk, possibly away from a landline. The BlackBerry solution is very neat and very effective – and Windows Mobile support is promised for later this year too.

Since the launch of its Conference Controller for BlackBerry software in May 2006, over 70 corporate clients have started using the service. James Brocket of international executive search organisation Calibre One has become an enthusiast: “We have recently selected the Ring2 Conferencing service to be rolled throughout our organisation because it offers our staff a simple but powerful control tool for more productive conference calling on the device that they’re always going to have next to them during a call – their BlackBerry – whether they’re making the call from their desk phone, a meeting room speaker phone or their mobile on-the-road.”

Ring2 is currently looking for resellers who want another revenue stream. Well worth a visit to www.ring2.com.

 
The 12th Annual GSM Association Global Mobile Awards were announced in Barcelona at the usual spectacular event.

For 2007 there were a record 600 applications for the awards. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little argument about the winners. Here’s a selection:

• Most Innovative Mobile Application or Content Award:
ShoZu’s Mobile MultiMedia Delivery Platform

• Most Innovative Technology:
Polymer Vision Rollable Displays

• Best Made for Mobile Game:
I-play, The Fast and the Furious

• Best Made for Mobile Music Service:

Vodafone-MeinPC

• Best Mobile Enterprise Product or Service:
Telepo Ltd, Fixed-Mobile Convergence Solution

• Best Mobile Messaging Service:
3UK, Windows Live Messenger from the X-Series

• Best GSM Mobile Handset:
Samsung SGH-D900

• Best 3G Mobile Handset:
Sony Ericsson K800

• Best Mobile Advertising:
Qwikker, Virgin Mobile V-Festival

ShoZu is a service that makes it incredibly easy to send and receive photos, videos and music – and it’s free, so users like it: but it uses airtime, so operators are happy too.

We can’t argue with the Polymer Vision award, either, though to be fair there wasn’t too much competition at the bleeding edge.

The handset awards are a tad more contentious, though the K800 has proved itself over time and the D900 is an honourable successor for the class-leading D500/600 sliders.

The Qwikker award was a bit special, an imaginative piece of work on Bluetooth hotspots created and executed by Qwikker at the 2006 V Festival in Chelmsford. Nine areas were set up across the festival site offering free music downloads of live performances which had just been heard on stage. Nearly half the festival-goers took up the offer, with over 30,000 mobiles connecting to the service over the three day period.