Weekly Wrap: Nokia Tune Goes Flat
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jun 11 09:15:00 GMT 2004

Handset sales are up as Nokia's slide becomes clear, Opera aims to speed up mobile browsing, while users look for the mobile Google, and more...

Figures from Gartner this week confirmed Nokia's earlier admission that it was having a rough time in the handset market. Overall sales boomed, up 34% over last year's first quarter over last year to just above 153 million. Nokia remained the market leader, but it lost nearly six points of market share down to 28.9%. Strong sales continued in Western Europe and were buoyed by Asian markets, where the Chinese New Year boosted figures. The top six vendors stayed the same, and all -- bar Nokia -- registered market share gains in the quarter. Motorola ranked second, followed by Samsung, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and LG.

Browser builder Opera announced a new proxy service this week that aims to speed up mobile browsing and cut users' traffic bills. The Opera Mobile Accelerator strips out certain unnecessary data from Web pages and compresses what's left, before sending them on to Opera mobile browsers. It's the latest in the trend of proxy-based systems that do much of the heavy lifting of page rendering on servers in an attempt to speed up surfing.

One area of the mobile Internet still ripe for growth is searching. No single player has emerged with the right answer for mobile search, and people are waiting for Google's entry into the space beyond their WML, i-mode and other versions.

Siemens' venture capital arm made an interesting invesment this week in Xingtone, a company that has an applications with which users can create their own ringtones from mp3s and other music files. It's likely carriers won't react well to Xingtone since the company breaks open their tightly closed -- and lucrative -- ringtone download business, even though opening up their networks to more attractive and usable services and applications creates new benefits for them.

Japanese net company Softbank says it wants to enter the country's mobile market and battle the three incumbent operators. If Softbank can come in and take control like it has Japan's broadband market, competitors should be concerned: Softbank's aggressive strategy of low prices has given it quite a bit of share. The company also recently purchased Japan Telecom, which it could use as a base for a mobile carrier -- hoping to launch in time for the start of number portability in 2006.

City officials in Seattle have proposed building a citywide municipal Wi-Fi network there, based on its city-owned fiber network. While it's an interesting idea, questions remain over how private Wi-Fi providers and ISPs would respond to the city moving into their territory. A few other bits of Wi-Fi news this week: airports and airlines are starting to bicker over who owns the airspace used by wireless networks, and the security-scare hype machine has fired up over hackers hogging bandwidth on Wi-Fi APs.

A California consumer group has sued three US carriers alleging they illegally restrict competition by locking the subsidized handsets they sell so they'll only recognize certain SIM cards. But what's unclear is if this lawsuit, if successful, would help or hinder consumers: they'd be able to take their phones with them should they switch carriers, but it might also spur carriers to cut or eliminate the subsidies they place on handsets.

Government regulators in Korea have taken action over illegal handset subsidies there -- by banning the country's top three mobile carriers from signing up new customers for periods ranging from 30-40 days. The carriers have already been fined 62 billion won ($54 million) since December, but it evidently hasn't deterred them from breaking the rules. The government has been introducing measures in the market to reduce leader SK Telecom's 51.6 percent share and protect smaller companies.

Concerns over the widespread use of RFID tags gained some legitimacy this week, as Japanese officials announced plans to tag dogs imported into the country to prevent the spread of rabies, but more worringly, a UK license plate maker said it would begin embedding long-range active RFID tags in its plates. The tags could be read at speeds of up to 320kmh at a distance of up to 100 meters, opening up all sorts of opportunities, both benefical and nefarious.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Steve Wallage wonders what's next for Vodafone, and TheFeature's newest contributor, Mike Masnick, warns carriers to keep their mobile content asiprations in check.