Weekly Wrap: Linux In Your Palm
By Carlo Longino, Fri Dec 10 08:45:00 GMT 2004

PalmSource buys into Linux, Siemens breaks the gigabit barrier, a Chinese infrastructure vendor makes headway into the West, and more...

PalmSource said this week it was buying a Chinese mobile software developer that's made a version of Linux optimized for mobile phones, and will run Palm OS over the open-source technology. It may sound like the end for the Palm OS, but the familiar UI will keep on, and this may turn out to be the boost Linux needs to gain traction in the mobile market -- if PalmSource can manage to keep developers and users satisfied with the new product.

Researchers from Siemens have broken the gigabit barrier, the company said this week, when they wirelessly transmitted data at 1Gbps, a new record. They used MIMO (multiple input multiple output) antenna technology with an OFDM network to accomplish the feat, but don't expect to see it in a phone anytime soon -- Siemens didn't offer a firm date, but tossed around 2015 for the debut of 4G.

Chinese network equipment vendor Huawei announced this week it would build two networks in Europe and the US, its first wins in those areas. Huawei has done some work in the Middle East and Latin America, but these two contracts could prove a significant turning point for the company to begin stealing orders from Western vendors, with which it's now competing on product quality as well as price.

One of the networks Huawei will be building is an HSDPA/UMTS system for Telfort in the Netherlands. mmO2 also said it would roll out HSDPA, an upgrade to UMTS that raises download speeds, as did Cingular as in the US. The three announcements reflect a growing trend for operators that haven't yet launched 3G to go right to the HSDPA upgrade, either at launch or soon after.

It's rumor time again, this time linking US operators Sprint and Nextel. While the companies' different network technologies -- CDMA and iDEN, respectively -- might look an odd match, Nextel's need for a 3G upgrade path, as well as the spectrum it can offer, make sense. Sprint's keen to get Nextel's high-ARPU business users, which would become another market segment the company is targeting not directly, but through a partner or MVNO using its network wholesale.

Virgin Mobile, which uses the Sprint network in the US, said it plans to launch MVNO operations in several developing nations soon, raising the possibility that virtual operators might offer the best way forward for the networks in those countries. Mobile operators there often struggle for profitability, thanks to their users' low incomes. But the virtual network setup allows the carriers to cut costs by only selling airtime in bulk to the virtual operators, who just focus on servicing end users, not with keeping up a network.

Cameraphones have now become pervasive enough to threaten the paparazzi, with some tabloids paying members of the public for compromising snapshots of celebrities. The instant-transmission ability of mobile phones makes up for the relatively poor quality of the images, and the sheer number of phones in circulation makes blanket coverage easy -- and easily enhanced when amateur photographers coordinate over mobile networks.

The CEO of Warner Music this week made bullish comments about mobile music services, saying mobile operators will emerge as the strongest competition for Apple in the music-player business. But Edgar Bronfman doesn't just think mobile handsets are cool, he's interested in their "piracy-resistant" capabilities. While users decry the walled content gardens operators set up, the closed networks are music to the ears of record labels.

Users will want advertising on their mobile phones, one columnist commented this week, saying that advertisers will be able to get users to pull ads to themselves, rather than have to have them pushed out. But there could be a problem with perception -- people don't go looking for advertising, they go looking for content that's useful or entertaining in some way. The nature of mobile phones dictates that users won't be interested in meaningless messages pushed at them, and they won't go pulling them in, either.

Elsewhere on the site this week, we took a look at the segmentation strategies of the mobile industry. Steve Wallage says operators are finally getting segmentation right, while Douglas Rushkoff warns that defining users into a restrictive demographic or customer profile could ultimately backfire, and Mark Frauenfelder gets mobile marketing guru Tomi Ahonen's views on the matter.