Weekly Wrap: PalmSource Looks To Get Handy
By Carlo Longino, Fri Oct 01 08:15:00 GMT 2004

The company releases a new version of Palm OS targeted exclusively at smartphones, EV-DO's success threatens EV-DV, hotels get wise to Wi-Fi, and more.

PalmSource announced a new version of its Palm OS made specifically for smartphones, looking to give the operating system a boost against Windows Mobile and Symbian. The company says three white-label manufacturers have 11 handsets based on the new software in the works, making it look like the company is stealing a page out of Microsoft's playbook by working with the vendors to develop devices they can then sell on to better-known manufacturers to rebrand as their own.

An executive from US CDMA carrier Verizon said this week the company is pushing its infrastructure vendors to deliver "Release A" upgrade to equipment based on the CDMA2000 1xEV-DO standard, which would offer speeds comparable to the rival EV-DV spec and allow operators to run voice services over an all-IP network. The new release allows networks to prioritize voice traffic, while essentially eliminating the spectral efficiency advantage of EV-DV. Since EV-DO equipment is already shipping in volume, the upgrade could stop EV-DV in its tracks.

After slowly catching on to offering guest Wi-Fi access, some hotels now are going so far as to offer hotel-specific applications and services over the networks. One chain is creating hotel blogs to which guests can post advice and information; others offer music downloads and room service over the networks. A short time ago, it was hard to find a hotel with Wi-Fi. Now it's hard to find one without it. But the properties are taking things a step further and using the connectivity as a network to add some value to a guest's stay.

As mobile data becomes more pervasive, and devices more powerful, some significant changes are occuring in how people use their handsets and how providers present content to them. Terminals are beginning to approach PC-level performance, leading users and developers to view them as a computing platform as well as a communications one. Content providers must get hip to this and how mobile data is changing people's behavior, and consider the device being used to consume content -- and the context and manner in which people use it.

There's not been much evidence so far of this type of consideration by TV networks and producers in working mobile content in with their shows, but that didn't stop several from the UK from saying they could help operators publicize new services, as a wedge, of course, to get carriers to improve message delivery and revenue sharing for their content. But the lack of fresh thinking of TV companies in terms of introducing mobile interactivity could have operators changing the channel.

News organizations, too, are trying to figure out just how to fit into the evolving mobile content landscape. The recent death of a Dutch singer, though, illustrated the potential of mobile phones as a person-to-person news delivery medium. Mobile usage from one operator, both voice and SMS, spiked as news of the singer's death broke, giving news providers an opportunity to capitalize on this by offering users content in a format they can then pass along to their friends and contacts.

The attention being paid to growing mobile markets like India and China has allowed Russia's mobile market to take off without making quite so much noise, though it's every bit as hot. Mobile penetration there has jumped from less than 1 percent in 1999 to over 46 percent now, and looks to grow another 25 percent in the next two years. The market's biggest challenge is expanding into the country's vast rural areas, setting the stage for a battle between established local and regional operators looking to fend off the growing national carriers.

Vodafone held an analyst day this week, looking to share its roadmap for the next few years, but also raised some questions about it's -- and other carriers' -- short-term future. The company says it's embracing Verizon Wireless, the US CDMA carrier of which it owns 45%, calling into question the importance of differing standards as devices evolve to be able to handle multiple flavors of networks. The other tidbit was CEO Arun Sarin's comments that the company wants to expand its geographic footprint to grow its subscriber count, begging the question of if that's the only way carriers see to grow, and not from selling existing users advanced services.

Like many other carriers, Vodafone soft-launched its 3G networks with data card-only service, mainly as a way to get some real-world testing in before taking on a full-scale consumer launch. One analyst said this week, however, that the 3G data card market on its own still shows tremendous potential for growth, though overall user figures may not get high enough to make a significant impact when compared to the number of potential 3G handset users.

The WiMAX bubble continues to show signs of over-inflating, with some realistic talk on the hypified standard from some major players. First, AT&T echoed the sentiments of many other carriers when a representative said the telco was looking into the technology only for use in slicing backhaul costs at this point, not as an end-user technology. Second, Fujitsu said it would aggressively price WiMAX chips, forgoing profits to try to control the market. Finally, spectrum concerns popped up again, in the form of a lack of suitable licensed spectrum in the US, leaving only intereference-prone unlicensed space.

Japanese carrier KDDI said this week it would adopt the FeliCa contactless IC system, developed by NTT DoCoMo and Sony, as its cashless payment system. The move puts pressure on the country's third major carrier, Vodafone, to adopt the system as well. Japan could be on its way to becoming a predominantly cashless society, given the mobile handset's ubiquity there.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Kevin Werbach looks into the tussle in the US over "white space" spectrum nestled among TV broadcast bands, Justin Hall goes to play at the Tokyo Game Show, and Justin Pearse examines the recent wave of interest in Java portals from major media brands.