Weekly Wrap: The Dog Days of Summer
By Carlo Longino, Fri Aug 06 09:00:00 GMT 2004

Given the slow trickle of news this week, most everybody must be on vacation. But the FCC cleared its desk before leaving, Symbian reported a strong first half, and more...

The FCC issued a smorgasboard of rulings this week, trying to take care of things before it goes on summer break. One ruling was aimed at mobile spam, but like so many FCC efforts, it's not all it's cracked up to be. The FCC ruling fulfills a mandate of the much-maligned CAN SPAM Act which required the Commission clarify how it applied to "mobile service messages". But instead of outlawing spam text messages, the ruling applies only to e-mail sent to US carriers' e-mail-to-SMS gateways. The FCC says it will build a registry of the domains carriers use for such purposes, and make it know that they can't be sent spam under any circumstance. A small victory that improves on CAN SPAM, which defines the characteristics that make spam legally acceptable, but perhaps missing the bigger point.

Many mobile advertising efforts up to this point have pretty much resembled spam, with marketers struggling to understand that they don't have much to gain from sending out text ads offering no added value to users or providing a service or reward they're interested in. Until someone cracks the nut of getting users involved in an interactive mobile campaign that takes into account users' needs as well as those of advertisers, mobile ads are destined to fail.

It appeared this week that reality-TV viewers are expecting a little more from mobile-TV interaction, as numbers from the current season of Big Brother in the UK showed that although record numbers of viewers are turning in, the number of votes being cast is dropping. Producers say the novelty of SMS voting is wearing off, since it's been hijacked by countless other programs, and that's likely true. But as consumer tastes and feelings change, TV shows must evolve their i interactive elements to keep viewers hooked.

OS vendor Symbian reported solid first-half results this week, saying it shipped 85% more handsets in the first half of 2004 than the year-earlier period. It's revenue also jumped up by a quarter, and a market researcher says that the OS has a big lead over other smartphone and PDA operating systems.

In addition to battling OSes, Java and BREW are duking it out in the software-download arena. But one analyst contends that neither will be the best choice for developers without significant improvements. Java lacks the back-end support of BREW, and Sun's development process is slow and cumbersome, while BREW scares a lot of handset vendors and carriers, since Qualcomm could try to push it as an operating system, and developers worry about spending time developing for a system whose success is still up in the air.

One place BREW's been dropped is in South Korea. The government there, which previously mandated the use of the homegrown WIPI download platform, said this week it was pondering trying to force SK Telecom to lower its rates in an attempt to stem economy-wide inflation. The country's Communication Ministry actively sets SKT's prices, and sets caps on competitors KTF and LG Telecom. SKT's prices fell 8.3% in 2002 and 7.3% last year, and the government was pondering a 6-8% cut this year.

Another analyst firm this week said carriers and handset vendors must do more to support the "third wave" of handset personalization -- emerging content like ringtunes, ringback tones and video ringers. Handsets must be capable of supporting this advanced content, even if carriers can't yet sell it, and carriers must actively negotiate reasonable licensing terms with content owners. Not taking a long-term view, or capitalizing on greed through high prices, could punish revenues.

Nokia said this week it couldn't keep up with demand for its 6230 cameraphone because it can't get enough components. While the shortages may undermine the short-term success of the device, and Nokia's attempt at recovery, many consumers are choosing to go on waitlists for the phone rather than choose another model, indicating the company's got a winner on its hands.

Nokia also announced this week it was adding Major League Baseball content to the sports application it offers some Series 60 users in the US. Nokia signed a similar deal with the NBA earlier in the year, and will serve baseball fans live audio streams, video highlights, photos and other content. Nokia's following an interesting, and relatively new model, by lining up the content and delivering the application. It would appear to benefit by driving interest in its handsets, while appeasing carriers by delivering them a good chunk of packet traffic.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Mark Frauenfelder examines research into autonomous robots and the communications links they use, as well as on researcher's efforts to shift the privacy tradeoffs required by location-based services in users' favor, and Steve Wallage talks to a professor that says mobile users want more than just the spoken word.