Weekly Wrap: The Calm, The Storm
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jan 09 09:00:00 GMT 2004

News was few and far between early in the week, then CES broke and stories with it...


Nokia gave the industry a boost this week when it increased its fourth-quarter earnings estimates after seeing strong sales in both handsets and network equipment, reflecting an upturned market that should see the company's competitors also benefit. The company was able to protect its handset margins as well as take advantage of carrier software upgrades to provide the boost.

Most of the week's other top stories came out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the industry gathered to check out new gadgets and spread some good news. Wireless data in the US got a big boost when Verizon Wireless announced its plans to expand its CDMA 1x EV-DO coverage nationwide, covering the country with 200-500k access. Fellow CDMA carrier Sprint PCS took advantage of the show to tout the success it's having in selling data and content to its 1x users, saying they'd downloaded 20 million ringtones and over 5 million games in 2003, highlighting the growth wireless data is seeing in the States.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's latest venture, Wheels of Zeus, said at the show it was licensing its object locating and tracking technology to Motorola. WoZ uses GPS locating and a mesh network in the unlicensed 900mHz band to track the location of of a certain object, and can send an alert when it leaves a certain range or area. It's unclear exactly how Motorola will use the technology, particularly as it was licensed by its home broadband unit, and not its mobile division.

Mobile device graphics look prepared to take a quantum leap forward, as graphics powerhouse ATI announced at CES its first 3D chip for handsets and devices. ATI is a part of the Khronos Group, a trade body working to develop an Open GL API for mobile devices, a group which rival Nvidia also announced this week it was joining. The ATI chip is made to render 2D and 3D graphics, as well as MPEG-4 video.

Another product looking for a big launch as CES were watches with Microsoft's SPOT technology, which uses FM subcarrier radio broadcasts to send news, weather, traffic, and other information to small personal devices. But the negative press surrounding SPOT is beginning to snowball, and it looks like the products and service may have been rushed to market.

Ex-Microsoft mobile honcho Juha Christensen landed a new gig this week at Macromedia, where he'll be in charge of the effort to land Flash and the company's other technologies on mobile devices. Flash is currently only available on one Motorola 3G phone and a line of NTT DoCoMo handsets, and the company will be hoping Christensen can foster its spread.

It looked this week like the UK 3G market was heading for a conflict over video calls, as carriers' marketing efforts made the feature a key selling point, while Nokia appears to be more skeptical of them, not yet choosing to support video calls in its 3G handsets. A battle appears to be brewing between the carriers' desires to support the calls, and Nokia's belief in its brand as a key selling point.

In Japan, where 3G is already old hat, market competition is heating up. KDDI, which was the unabashed winner in the first round of the fight, is offering a new higher-speed CDMA 1x service with its flat-rate plans, while DoCoMo is beefing up their coverage to 99% of the country and introducing some cool new handsets. Vodafone is hoping to counter by using its position as part of the world's biggest carrier to offer simple international roaming with a dual-mode GSM/WCDMA handset it will soon introduce.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Mark Frauenfelder checks out how to use mobile technology to help meet up with your friends, and Justin Ried wonders if what Symbian really needs is a smartphone user interface.