Weekly Wrap: Euro 3G Spreads
By Carlo Longino, Fri May 07 09:30:00 GMT 2004

Vodafone and T-Mobile fire up some European 3G networks, news from developing regions and more...


Vodafone turned on its full 3G networks in Germany and Portugal this week. Though its been running a data-only service for a little while, the carrier launched full consumer voice services with a Samsung clamshell handset, forcing T-Mobile to turn on its 3G net in Germany (launching with the Nokia 7600) immediately. Researchers Analysys rained on the parade a little bit, saying it won't be until next year that 3G networks in Europe gain large numbers of users.

US carrier Sprint is releasing a new Samsung cameraphone that's got a "moblog this?" dialog built into the photo-taking process. Users can eaily choose to send photos to an online album hosted by Sprint, though it's not clear if the service allows users to use external blogging services. The development comes amid news that American users are losing interest in picture messaging: a study last year found 18 percent of users were interested in picture messaging; this year, the figure's fallen to 13 percent. Lack of interoperability and pricing concerns seem to be the main obstacles.

Interest remains, however, in smartphones running Linux. While the OS is yet to make much of a dent in the market, some handset makers are looking to harness its low cost and large existing developer pool to make it a viable phone OS. It's unclear if existing Linux developers, although great in number, can be depended on to deliver consumer applications with the level of usability required for the general public -- something they're not exactly known for.

Microsoft this week released a new version of its Windows Media DRM that adds support for mobile devices. Microsoft's desktop DRM lets users essentially rent content, giving them access to it for a certain period of time. The new version, dubbed Janus, would let a service like Rhapsody or Napster, which let users listen to an unlimited number of tracks with a monthly fee, allow users to play content on their mobile devices as long as their subscription is up to date.

A report by the ITU came out of Africa this week saying the continent is the world's fastest growing emerging market. Mobile use has increased 65 percent annually for the last five years there, though penetration remains at just 6 percent (double that of landlines however). Africa presents a challenge to the industry because of its depressed incomes, forcing companies to innovate to realize profits with low ARPUs. In another developing market, India, innovation is happening, though it's not necessarily a good kind. Indian electoral candidates are bombarding voters with spam, much of it to mobiles. One developer has bragged his company has a system that enables the sending of 10 million SMS per hour. There was news out of China this week too, as Siemens announced a partnership with local vendor Ningbo Bird to sell its handsets throughout the country and also jointly develop devices.

Another developing market is that of wireless broadband in the US. While some growth is going on, the FCC this week formed a task force to create policy to further engender its growth. Ideally the group will be able to help sort out spectrum allocation, probably the biggest barrier to mass uptake of wireless broadband in the country.

More news of KDDI's success with flat-rate data pricing: the carrier said this week that the 90 percent of its 3G users that have opted for the flat-rate plan spend more than double on content services than 2G packet-charge users. While the massive difference in speed can't be ignored, it's more evidence that flat pricing encourages use, and in this case, additional spending.

It's heartening to see innovation driving some novel uses of mobile and wireless technology, and it's starting to come from the bottom up. A developer this week released barcode software for Symbian devices that lets users create barcodes that when photographed with a cameraphone (that's got the software installed), directs its browser to a URL. Anybody with the software can create the barcodes, which is quite cool. Another new development comes from Legoland in Denmark, which has installed a system that piggybacks on the park's Wi-Fi network to help parents locate their kids.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Howard Rheingold investigates some novel thinking on what to do with all these cameraphones, while Steve Wallage delivers the third in his series of interviews on listening to mobile users.