Weekly Wrap: Bring On the Earnings
By Carlo Longino, Fri Oct 15 08:15:00 GMT 2004

Third-quarter earnings season kicks off with reports from a couple of handset vendors, mobile video's in the spotlight, France gets jammin', and more...

Another session of earnings reports kicked off with reports from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. The world's biggest handset manufacturer gained back market share after enacting a series of price cuts, sending its average selling prices down. Sales were slightly higher than last year's third quarter, with profits quite a bit lower, and increased network sales helping to offset results from handset sales. Sony Ericsson continues to roll, with sales and profits up significantly over the same period last year, and average selling prices rising as well. The fourth quarter will be very competitive as the likes of Nokia and Motorola look to claw back share while Samsung and Sony Ericsson hope to continue their growth, but managing component supplies will be key -- Nokia said shortages cost it sales of at least a million units in the last quarter.

As 3G networks become more pervasive, interest in getting video on handsets grows, with much of the attention put on porting live television to mobile devices. While user interest in that remains up in the air, user-created content could offer more potential. And while providers focus on streaming multimedia, all these new fat pipes have people interested in downloading instead. And as users are slow to turn on to video calling over 3G, operators are launching a number of promotions to get them interested in the service.

There was a lot of talk this week about France's move to legalize mobile-phone jammers in performance spaces like movie theaters, but for all the interest in enforcing etiqutte, people don't seem to realize that jamming handsets kills not only voice, but data too. Cutting phones off will keep things quiet, but shuts the door on a number of potentially innovative data services as well.

Rumors popped up again that European carrier mmO2 is thinking of adopting i-mode, leading some to wonder why they'd pay to get in on the service, when its real benefits aren't technical, but changes in the usual mobile content business model. i-mode has been extensively studied, and the underlying reasons for its success well publicized, and they're little to do with using the cHTML standard for mobile Web content or specifically related to NTT DoCoMo's handsets, and more to do with moves it has made to support content providers and developers.

Another Japanese mobile innovation that's traveling westward are barcodes. A number of applications are emerging that link barcodes, or the products on which they appear, to other information out on the Web, usually pricing and product info. Mobile payment systems, too, are making the move. Two announcements in the US this week saw AT&T saying it would support wireless vending machines, and Motorola saying it would launch handsets with Mastercard's PayPass contactless payment system.

Even in the west, mobile phones are becoming pervasive enough to have a significant impact on people's behavior, with the latest research saying people are becoming less self-reliant because they can call someone for help or support at any time. But the truth may be closer to people needing help to deal with information overload, rather than any inherent indecisiveness.

Carriers are beginning to realize that mobile communications doesn't have to be device-dependent, and are opening up some applications so PC users can interact with their mobile customers. Wi-Fi, too, is becoming more of a platform than an application, as Cingular's parent SBC said it would use hotspots to enhance mobile coverage and take some of the spectrum burden off the carrier, and one company is using Wi-Fi "fore" a whole host of applications at golf courses.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Steve Wallage takes a look at Sony's StreamMan mobile music service, Douglas Rushkoff says mobile may prove key to open-sourcing currency and Howard Rheingold shares how some researchers are empowering public authoring and storytelling with the mobile Internet.