Weekly Wrap: What Will They Think of Next?
By Carlo Longino, Fri May 09 11:40:07 GMT 2003

Microsoft flushes its "anytime, anywhere" idea down the toilet, literally, and other news...


Japanese giant NTT DoCoMo headed the week's news with its announcement of profitable half-year results. DoCoMo returned to profitability a year after writing off much of its overseas investment, boosted by strong uptake of camera phones and related services. A quarter of the company's 44 million subscribers now have camera phones, and DoCoMo hopes that increased data use spurred by the devices and its i-mode services will help offset declining voice revenues through the end of the year. DoCoMo also said it has 330,000 subscribers to its FOMA 3G service, with more than half of those added in the first three months of 2003. It says that new handsets with longer battery life and improved coverage will help it hit a subscriber goal of 1.46 million by the end of the fiscal year in September after a notably rocky start, though rival KDDI says it's aiming for 12.7 million subscribers to its CDMA-based 3G network by next March, up from 6.8 million this year.

RealNetworks went full-steam ahead into mobile content this week, following the release of its media player in Nokia 3650 phones by announcing its "RealOne Media Guides", directories of streaming audio and video content specially formatted for small displays and low bandwidth. The service is free for now, but the company hopes to generate revenue from it eventually, either through subscriptions or sharing data transmission fees with carriers. Look for more about this here on TheFeature next week.

3G launches continued in Europe, with Sweden Hutchison 3G's latest conquest, and Vodafone opening Ireland's first 3G network. Hutchison followed their usual modus operandi, actually "launching" the network before any handsets are available to consumers, though the network's chief said the company will break even in 4 or 5 years. This comes in the face of news that Orange is dropping its Swedish 3G plans and competitor Tele2 says it will be a decade before 3G networks are in the black. Well, Hutch is nothing if not optimistic.

The words "KPN" and "takeover" seem to be popping up in sentences quite frequently lately, and this week was no exception, as the Dutch carrier's German unit, E-Plus, looks set to buy beleaguered carrier Mobilcom's 3G network at the bargain-basement price of roughly USD 22.5 million. Mobilcom has to pass 90 percent of the sale price on to its chief backer, France Telecom - that will make a big dent in the French telco's USD 76 billion pile of debt. The deal doesn't include Mobilcom's UMTS license, as E-Plus already has one of its own, and a buyer for that is unlikely to emerge (ask Quam how much their license is worth these days). So if we take the cost of just the license (EUR 9.44 billion), ignoring whatever else they spent on real estate and antennas and equipment, it's only about a 99.8% loss. It's not so bad when you look at it that way...right?

PalmSource gave some insight into Palm OS 6, the latest version of the operating system expected to ship by the end of the year, saying it was focused on wireless and security, and the company also announced a deal with Research in Motion to bring the BlackBerry wireless e-mail platform to Palm devices.

Coming just a couple of weeks after Qualcomm announced strong second-quarter earnings - and some analysts questioned whether those profits could continue - Texas Instruments threw down the gauntlet to the company and announced it would enter the market for CDMA chipsets. This follows news that Samsung intends to begin using its own CDMA chips, and also fuels speculation that Nokia, already TI's biggest customer, will start using its chips for high-end handsets and its own on low-end models.

But certainly the most puzzling, if not most interesting, piece of news this week came from Microsoft, where the company's MSN unit has developed plans to turn public porta-toilets into wireless Internet access kiosks. Dubbed the "iLoo," the high-tech toilets would feature not only high-speed Internet access, a plasma screen, wireless keyboard, and of course six-channel surround sound. And since inevitably all this technology will make people spend longer sitting on the can, there will be a "Hotmail Station" with a plasma screen and waterproof keyboard on the outside for people to use while waiting in line. My first observation would be that this is nothing new to anybody with a laptop and Wi-Fi in their house. My second, after visiting the Pecan Street Festival here in Austin last weekend, would be that I've never been in a port-a-let in which I've wanted to linger more than a few seconds, let alone hang out and check my e-mail or something.