3GSM World Congress: Day Four
By Carlo Longino, Thu Feb 17 22:00:00 GMT 2005

As the crowds recede from Cannes, there's finally a chance to take a step back and contemplate this year's event.

3GSM this year had a different feeling than last year's show, when the industry had stepped out of its woes and had some things to shout about. With 3G becoming a widespread reality, the hype machine has moved on to other pastures, with HSDPA the main beneficiary. There were plenty of big stories this week: the usual handset announcements generated the usual amount of interest, and the Nokia-Microsoft deals were a big talking point. But a lot of the noise coming out of 3GSM was related to the underlying idea that while these new 3G networks sure are great, what content and applications are going to drive their usage?

A lot of companies are betting on music, in one form or another. Handset manufacturers are feverishly building "music phones" while others are creating music-delivery systems. While some of the new music-centric handsets are attractive and have dedicated buttons that make them act much more like MP3 players than previous handset efforts, there's still a long way to go before Apple will be worried about iPod sales.

Mobile TV is still on a lot of people's minds as well. Korean vendors Samsung and LG covered Cannes in advertisements for some of their handsets that can receive TV broadcasts, and Nokia demoed DVB-H broadcasts. But not everybody is so optimistic -- a speaker from FIFA said in a panel discussion that football's governing body isn't convinced small screens do its sport justice giving indications the group would do little to encourage or help mobile video efforts at the next World Cup in 2006.

If you think that some other form of content is going to be where it's at, chances are somebody at 3GSM will sell it to you. Games and ringtones are still a big business, and there were certainly more companies hawking adult content than last year, so perhaps all the reported interest in naked people on handset screens is true. But for every company selling mobile porn, there was one selling some technology to keep kids from being able to access it.

The official theme of the show was "the next billion", developing strategies and products to help the industry build toward attracting 2 billion total subscribers worldwide. The biggest news about this was Motorola's announcement it would make a phone that will wholesale for under $40, the first in a line of super-cheap phones pushed by the GSM Association for developing markets. In established markets, there's an emphasis on driving down costs as well, this time to help push smartphones into the mid-tier of the market.

While the mobile hype cycle may be on the upswing again and the industry on better footing than when it met up last year, there are still plenty of challenges that have to be surmounted.