Weekly Wrap: 3GSM Comes To a Close
By Carlo Longino, Fri Feb 27 09:30:00 GMT 2004

The 3GSM World Congress ended Thursday, and now there's finally a chance to catch our breath and put things in some perspective.

It's been a busy week, not just for us, but for everybody in the industry at Cannes. Keynotes, panels, meetings, press conferences -- they all add up. While of course there's plenty of socializing going on, a lot of business goes on at 3GSM too. It's easy to blow the show off as the mobile business just going for a week-long holiday in a posh South of France resort, what with the yachts, and the beach, and the fancy hotels, but that's just a backdrop to the real action going on inside a convention center that's not different from any other, anywhere else in the world.

The optimism coming from the industry was almost overwhelming. Fueled by the global economic recovery and given a boost by a monster fourth quarter for handset sales last year, carriers and vendors alike are excited about this year's prospects, particularly 3G network launches. It's hard to know exactly what to take from their unbridled optimism, though, as their hype has burned so many people before, but it's hard to share at least some of their feelings. This is undoubtedly an interesting and exciting time in the industry.

There were a lot of really cool things to see at the show, and there were some that weren't so cool. Let's take a look at some of the highlights and the lowlights.

Two companies that got arguably the biggest boost at the show were Vodafone and Nokia. Vodafone got a little bruised in the AT&T Wireless auction, and with CEO Arun Sarin leading the way, the carrier was out to save some face. Sarin deftly negotiated a press conference with Nokia CEO Jorma Olilla, and a keynote the next morning alongside T-Mobile's CEO, dealing with the buyout failure and another touchy subject, comments out of the carrier last year that it wanted to move away from branded handsets in favor of devices with its own mark. Nokia's launch of its 9500 Communicator handset was probably the biggest story of the week, with some saavy media relations skills getting the device on the front page of major newspapers Monday morning.

Several cool products caught our eye during the show. A company called Jamanda showed off a Symbian Series 60 device security client, putting firewall, anti-virus, spam-blocking and security applications in the handset. While mobile viruses haven't been too much of a problem yet, it's not hard to imagine a simple trojan-like piece of software that gets loaded onto a phone and serruptitiously goes onto the Web to load some sketchy code or makes calls to a premium-rate line. Jamanda's software fights a problem that's really not yet reared its head, but may be the type of application that worried CTOs are looking for.

Openwave was excited to talk about some new software it had developed for MSN, allowing users of its phones to access MSN Messenger, Hotmail, and other services. Openwave's mobile browser captures a large share of the market, particularly in non-smartphone handsets, and its platform also includes messaging and other software. The solution it's crafted for MSN is a powerful and novel pice of software that packs some rich services in a friendly UI.

We also dug some real-time sports trackers from Dutch developer Icemobile. They allow users to follow a football match, a Formula One race, the Olympics or other events live, updating every 15 to 30 seconds with the latest action. The football tracker, for instance, updates with goals and cards, and even sends a few still images of goals immediately after they happen. Vodafone's already using the product for European Champions League games. Another nifty product was a product from Musikube for the MS Smartphone platform that recognizes music, goes out onto the Web and brings back not just the artist and title, but an image of the album cover and links to buy the CD or download the ringtone or song.

Mother Nature's performance during the week gets a low score, with overcast and cold conditions the normal situation. Extremely windy conditions sent bug waves crashing onto the beach Monday, endangering the hospitality tents of several companies. Workers scrambled to build seawalls with earth-moving equipment, and alas, all was well. Another black mark goes to the ironic situation regarding Net connectivity at the show, particularly for the press. With the amount of bandwidth flowing into the place, not to mention that it's a telecommunications conference, a dozen wired ethernet ports and a sketchy and ridiculously priced Wi-Fi service (EUR 80 for 3 days) made staying in touch with the outside world -- something supposed to be this industry's bread and butter -- a chore.