Weekly Wrap: End of an Era?
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jul 23 09:45:00 GMT 2004

Updated: DoCoMo -- isn't -- putting the venerable i-mode system out to stud, BREW goes off the boil in Korea, second-quarter earnings add up, and more..


NTT DoCoMo will send i-mode out to pasture, marking the end of an era (or the first era?) of the mobile Internet. The carrier's retiring the name, and eventually the 2G network on which it runs, in favor of shifting customers to its newer, faster FOMA 3G network. While i-mode may be old and tired in Japan, it's still the relatively new hotness outside the country, and DoCoMo's foreign licensees will continue to use the name. Update:Something got lost in translation, or somebody got some wires crossed -- while DoCoMo is trying to move 2G cutstomers over to the 3G FOMA network, the company isn't ditching the i-mode brand inside Japan, or anywhere else.

South Korean carrier KTF said this week it was dumping BREW, Qualcomm's content and applications download platform, in favor of the homegrown WIPI platform. South Korea and the US got into a fairly vicious trade spat over WIPI a few months back when the Korean government said it was going to mandate WIPI's use, effectively banning BREW. It backed down, but now the market's made the choice -- and choosing in favor of WIPI and its lower certification and licensing fees.

It's the thick of earnings season, and results from the second quarter show a generally strong mobile industry. Positive reports from Motorola, Samsung and LG underlined the shift in momentum and the changing balance of power in the handset market, with the vendors' results pretty well opposite of struggling leader Nokia. The network equipment market is looking up, too, as both Ericsson and Lucent have turned their fortunes around, and most US carriers are still in a growth phase, adding plenty of new customers.

Smartphone and PDA sales continue to grow as well, according to one market research firm. Overall mobile device sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the second quarter were up 52% from last year, with Nokia holding a vast lead in both overall sales and sales of voice-centric devices. A bit surprisingly, PDA sales are on the upswing, too, but smartphone sales were up 57%. Symbian continues to be the OS of choice, holding at least 90% of the market.

T-Mobile announced plans for the launch of its UK 3G network this week, which really isn't very interesting, though the pricing and setup is. Like other carriers, T-Mobile is launching a business-focused data-only service at first, but its card combines GPRS, 3G and Wi-Fi under a single tariff -- GBP 70 per month for unlimited use. It's a significant differentiation from Vodafone and Orange, and one that should prove valuable. T-Mobile has done the right thing by acknowledging that both Wi-Fi and 3G have their advantages, and the customer should be able to easily and cheaply roam between them.

A study from a group of ergonomic experts this week says that mobile-phone keypads are sized for 5-year-olds, just as manufacturers are putting keyboards on handsets, particularly in the US, to attract an older generation to mobile messaging and e-mail. Evidently older users are scared off by the prospect of typing messages on phone keypads, particularly since the ergonomists say they're all thumbs when it comes to dialling with the phlanges.

One Japanese company has come up with some technology that protects the data in a mobile handset with a low-power radio security system that renders a phone useless when its paired transmitter gets too far away. A user could have a ring or a piece of jewelry with a transmitter in it that matches their phone, and when they wander too far away from their device, it shuts off. Of course, some people are so worried about being separated from their phone that they buy more than one.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Steve Wallage interviews mobile researcher Dr. David Allen, and Mark Fraunfelder talks about a new nanostorage technology that could make getting hard drives in mobiles a moot point.