3GSM World Congress: Wave Of Excitement Over 3G
By Carlo Longino, Mon Feb 23 20:00:00 GMT 2004

It's clear, here on the first day of the 3GSM World Congress, that the industry's got its swagger back. Emboldened by a number of imminent commercial 3G launches, the major players are no longer talking about cost-cutting and survival, and the only storm they're concerned about weathering is the one out in the Med that's sending waves into their beachfront hospitality tents.

Everybody's excited about what should be a pretty fantastic year as the third generation of mobility becomes a reality. Nokia CEO Jorma Olilla and his Vodafone counterpart Arun Sarin shared the stage at Nokia's press conference with the device maker's new 9500 Communicator, which features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, among other enhancements. But the two CEOs were more interested in talking about the market in general, putting behind them any squabbles about handset branding in favor of a "rising tide lifts all ships" message.

The execs stressed the importance of industry players seeking common ground, working together, and developing common standards and systems for the sake of growing the market in general, with Olilla espousing a "collaborative approach" to "create value for all." Olilla also emphasized another common theme of the day, catering to the enterprise. The 9500 is Nokia's latest device attempt at the business user, and they announced a deal with IBM to create greater links between the computer giant's software and Nokia's mobile devices.

Nokia's segmenting the market into three areas of focus that reflects the company's recent reorganization -- multimedia, enterprise, and voice. This was a theme that ran through several of the day's other presentations as well.

The real meat, though, was in Sarin's appearance, which seemed to gloss over comments out of the carrier last year that it was looking to decrease its dependence on Nokia handsets, and increase its use of carrier-branded devices, with the two companies saying that they were working together to deliver Nokia 3G handsets for the Vodafone Live! service. Sarin danced around the topic during the Q&A, saying, "We have to work together to make things happen," and saying that European manufacturers, in addition to Asian carriers, were "coming on strong" in the 3G handset market. But the obvious inference was that the two companies realized they had more to lose by playing hardball with each other over their brands, and stand to both benefit by delivering handsets from the world's biggest vendor to one of its biggest carriers.

Symbian CEO David Levin had a lot of great news to share, though it was overshadowed by an explanation of Nokia's recent announcement that it was buying Psion out of the OS venture. He seemed keen to dispel the idea that Nokia would have its hands in the day-to-day operations of Symbian, adding that the structure of the company dictates that someone must own 70% of its shares to truly control it, while Nokia's stake would come in somewhere between 46.6 percent and 63.3 percent, depending on the number of shares Symbian's other owners decide to buy with some pre-emptive rights they have with the deal. The company's CFO said that the buyout process could extend until about May or June, with the deal dependent on regulatory reviews in three countries and Psion shareholder approval.

Symbian released solid 2003 results earlier in the day, with the company taking advantage of the growing smartphone market and the growing shift of importance to software. Levin also announced the company's UIQ user-interface unit was releasing version 3.0 of its software, featuring both a two-hand, pen-based and a one-handed, more typical smartphone, version. Symbian also added growing South Korean vendor LG as a licensee, as well as Taiwan's number-two mobile manufacturer, Arima.

Motorola and Siemens made presentations later in the day, and with both companies' positions in the fixed-line market, it wasn't surprising that they were pushing wireless and wireline network convergence. Motorola's CEO Ed Zander shared a vision of "seamless mobility," with a single device working as a PBX phone on an in-building wireless network, then seamlessly transferring to a cellular network, then passing off from the handset to an in-car handsfree system. We know he's only been on the job for a couple of months, but his hopes for the future were a little underwhelming, and frankly, stale.

The company quickle glossed over the most interesting news it had to offer, its new handsets. The company enjoyed something of a renaissance in 2003, making up some ground on the market, and is looking to get a further boost in 2004. It showed off the MPx-300 Pocket PC handset, with a unique dual-hinge device, the A1000 Symbian/UIQ 3G phone, the E1000, one of the first UMTS devices to be packaged in a form factor more typical of a 2G device. It also showed a new GSM push-to-talk handset, as well as the MPx-100 device, which sports a 1.2 megapixel camera.

The company was also pushing the HSDPA demo it's got running in its exhibition booth, and they're very proud of the fact that they can download Shakespeare's entire works in 20 seconds, and a CD in under 12. Call me cynical, but I can't do that on my home wired broadband connection, so I'm not optimistic I'll be seeing that on my mobile too soon -- nevermind the fact that 3G's barely launched.

Siemens echoed Nokia's open-systems approach, saying the simplicity they provide is necessary to grow the market. They also echoed Moto's convergence theme, both on a network level, and on a device level -- with a fixed-line phone that can receive MMS messages. Siemens is also aiming half its handset portfolio at emerging markets, looking to build on its relative strengths in the areas. But Siemens' lack of new 3G-related announcements was a surprise, and while they were glad to tout that 9 of 15 network launches use their equipment, they said their U15 model which they announced last fall would carry them through as their UMTS handset offering to the end of 2004.