Weekly Wrap: VeriSign Sees the Light
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jan 14 08:30:00 GMT 2005

Messaging company LightSurf gets snapped up by VeriSign, Paris Hilton's favorite toy gets hacked, New York City looks to wireless broadband, and more...


VeriSign likes to get stuck in the middle of things. It's making its business to be the go-between for all sorts of information on the Internet, be it domain names or security certificates; now it's moving into mobile as well. It purchased European content provider Jamba last year with a view towards building a centralized content-selling system, and this week it bought LightSurf, a developer of photo-messaging software, adding picture-messaging expertise to its portfolio.

News emerged this week that a hacker gained access to the data from a number of T-Mobile USA users' Danger Hiptop devices by breaking into the carrier's servers. The hacker stole photos from a number of celebrities that use the device as well as data from a Secret Service agent investigating a number of -- yep, you guessed it -- cybercrimes. The real-time sync of the device causes some of the vulnerability. Everything on the Hiptop gets synced to the Web automatically, meaning there's copies of data hanging out on T-Mobile's servers.

Officials in New York City are investigating installing a municipal wireless broadband network there, after businesses in industrial areas outside Manhattan claimed it was difficult to get wired high-speed access from incumbent providers. It could set the stage for another tussle over whether the city can build and operate such a network, though Intel said this week it was prepared to help cities support such initiatives, as a way of ensuring a market for WiMAX gear.

As Wi-Fi gets used for more wide-area deployments, the noise of Wi-Fi vs. 3G arguments heats up, with pundits lining up on both sides -- and now being joined by carriers, as US carrier Verizon Wireless' marketing head says his company's EV-DO service will "put a hurt" on the hotspot business. While both technologies are strong in particular applications, both markets are nascent and developing, which isn't the best time to pit them against each other.

The battle over wireless broadband won't end anytime soon. Today's cellular vs. Wi-Fi matchup looks like it will evolve into a cellular vs. WiMAX bout, with the DoCoMo-led Super 3G group up against the coalition led by Korean vendors like Samsung who are rolling their work on WiBro into mobile WiMAX. Whoever wins, it's interesting to note that the leadership is coming from Asia -- and it's probably no coincidence they're from countries that have more rapidly adopted high-speed wireless services than anywhere else in the world.

Wi-Fi's not quite done yet, though. Vendors are adding multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology -- which is used in many advanced mobile test networks -- to consumer Wi-Fi gear as a way to goose speeds even higher. The manufacturers say consumer demand to send video over home networks is fuelling a need for the faster equipment more quickly than the upcoming 802.11n standard can be rolled out.

But with those advanced services comes one roadblock for operators: saturation. It's a scenario taking hold in Japan, where 70% of the population has handsets, and it's making things difficult for some of the country's operators. But saturation doesn't mean opportunities for growth are disappearing, it merely means different strategies must be used -- whether it's convincing people they need more than one phone, or encouraging machine-to-machine services, and changing the networks and business models to support these uses.

Several more mobile-industry companies this week joined the Mobile Imaging and Printing Consortium, a group which is developing guidelines and standards so consumers will be able to easily print cameraphone images on their home printers. While such functionality is nice, even necessary, wouldn't they be better off figuring out ways to better implement the digital sharing of photos, given the low usage of MMS?

Elsewhere on the site this week, Steve Wallage takes a look at how the handset market will play out in 2005, Douglas Rushkoff shows how all users can benefit when product designers pay attention to one group's disabilities, and David Pescovitz talks to one researcher who's looking to let cameraphone users access a "visual Google".