Weekly Wrap: Mobility Rules
By Carlo Longino, Fri Sep 17 08:00:00 GMT 2004

Where cellular data fits in with rise of WiMAX, Wi-Fi and other standards, P2P makes it to phones, and more...


There's some debate over whether mobile carriers can compete with wired broadband connections with fixed cellular data, and more over the extent to which Wi-Fi will hamper 3G data. To compete effectively, cellular data must play to its strengths. The first, of course, is mobility. While 3G isn't as fast as Wi-Fi, areas of coverage are much wider than localized hotspots. But 3G of course, is more than just a fast mobile Internet connection. Carriers can also win by emphasizing applications and services that can only be offered over a wide-area network. But Wi-Fi companies are eyeing using that technology as a similar platform to encourage its growth.

Euro carrier Orange is aiming to encourage third-party content providers and developers to use its network, in turn enhancing its value proposition to customers. The carrier this week held a "Code Camp" as part of its efforts to overhaul its developer relations, giving technical seminars on preparing applications for its networks. Orange will also create one point of contact for developers, and also standardize the back end of its various country networks so applications will be able to run on all of them without specialization. The carrier also says it will open its Orange World portal in the UK to more outside content providers, a sign of openness and facilitation that should help it in the long run.

Infighting over royalties, particularly from songwriters, is causing some big problems and lost revenues in the US ringtone market. Licensing disagreements are keeping hit songs off of handsets, often at the same time the real versions are topping the charts. The move to MP3-capable handsets threatens the business even more, and record-industry execs are already foaming at the mouth over the potential for P2P applications on mobile phones. All it took was a demonstration P2P application from SK Telecom -- that is DRM-free -- to work them into a tizzy, already dwelling on the potential lost sales.

Once P2P file-sharing on mobile phones fires up, users will of course need some good security software, if anti-virus companies are to be believed. McAfee's CEO waxed on about the dangers inherent in 3G devices, just because they have a fast Net connection, coinciding nicely with his company's move to focus on the wireless space. Mobile viruses and malware aren't much of a problem yet, and the low processing power and relatively slow data speed (when compared to DSL, cable modem or other forms of broadband) don't make them very attractive to hackers. Surely there are better things to do than give unsuspecting users unnecessary concerns.

A mobile content aggregator released a study this week that provides some insight into mobile content consumer behavior. Bango, which did the study, says there are three common types of content purchasers, and gave them the lovely names "porkers," "grazers" and "nibblers". The company also gives some advice on what content providers can do to better market their services to these types of users, and take advantage of their spending habits, though the guidance might be a bit too much feeding frenzy and not enough fine dining, focusing on how to turn every customer into a porker.

AT&T Wireless announced this week it would sell a standalone instant-messaging and e-mail device, which strangely has a GSM radio, but no voice capability, bucking the established trend of convergence. The device uses Bluetooth and some proprietary technology to act as a mobile gateway for other devices, but appears to run counter to consumer tastes. Analysts have been talking about the decline of the PDA market as their features creep into smartphones and featurephones, and a move to take some of those features and move them to a separate, less powerful device doesn't seem like a good one.

Camera functionality continues to be one of the most popular converged features in handsets, with the technology now established enough that users are clamoring for higher-quality images. In addition to increasing megapixel counts, new lens technology promises to improve images further. A special lens coating combined with a type of image encoding that can be performed by the phone's processor would allow entire frames to be in focus and take dramatically better pictures than current models.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Mike Masnick reports in from the DEMOmobile conference, Mark Frauenfelder points out a magnetic positioning technology that could add direction information to GPS location information in handsets, and David Pescovitz sniffs out a story on a British research effort that uses mobile pollution sensors and bluejacking to let people know the quality of the air they're breathing.