Weekly Wrap: You Might Have 3G, But Is It Super?
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jan 07 08:15:00 GMT 2005

NTT DoCoMo's leading a group of vendors and operators to come up with a faster, more super version of 3G, a movement Korean manufacturers may or may not be joining, mobile media - and DRM - takes a step forward, and more.

Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo is leading a group of nearly 30 other operators and vendors to develop the "Super 3G" standard, which it expects to deliver 10 times the bandwidth of current UMTS networks. It's hard to see what's really going on here, given the industry's penchant for hype, as well as the growing popularity of HSDPA, which has been dubbed in some quarters 3.5G. But don't toss out that brand-spanking-new 3G handset Santa brought you: DoCoMo doesn't expect to roll out Super 3G until 2009, presuming the spec is complete in 2007.

There's some confusion, though, over whether South Korean vendors Samsung and LG are participating. After initially saying the Super 3G effort was an attempt by DoCoMo to control the path to a 4G standard, the Korean government said the companies were taking part. The government there is pushing for private investment to create a "converged broadband network" that will span both wired and mobile networks to offer advanced services, and after rejigging its WiBro plans to accomodate WiMAX, leaders in Seoul may be looking to ensure the network is on the same page with international standards, for a variety of reasons.

The Consumer Electronics Show was in Las Vegas this week, and plenty of companies used it as a backdrop to announce new products and services, and mobile video is a hot topic. Products from TiVo and Orb Networks came into the spotlight, each portending the forthcoming large-scale move to mobile media. Both let users take media previously locked to one location anywhere they want to go: TiVoToGo allows users to transfer DVR recordings to a laptop computer, while Orb lets users access nearly any type of media file on their home PC with an Internet-enabled mobile device.

But of course the words "mobile media" and "DRM" are never far apart. The group that handles licensing of the MPEG-2 standard said this week it had grouped together key patents from five companies for the OMA DRM 1.0 spec, allowing handset vendors to get them for a royalty of $1 per handset, and content providers to use it for a fee of 1% of their consumer selling price. But a problem facing OMA and mobile DRM in general is that it's yet another standard for consumers to deal with, something that becomes quite a problem when people want to move content from one source on their PC with one type of DRM to their mobile phone, which supports OMA or another flavor.

Another major sticking point for mobile content remains pricing. The success of ringtones has buoyed content providers into thinking anything they can offer on a mobile can command a high price, just because it's on a phone. But consumers don't check their common sense at the door when they step away from the wired Internet, so why do mobile providers think they can charge obscene prices for services nobody would pay for on the wired Web?

Bundling services is the latest telecom business model fad, with cable television and landline operators scrambling to offer the "triple play" phone, TV and Internet access and, in many cases, add mobile phone service to it. Providers are slowly realizing that mobile can play a key part of their bundles, with US baby Bell SBC this week saying it would offer an advanced set-top TV box with digital media hub functions that could be controlled by a mobile phone, and leaks of negotiations by cable company Time Warner to start an MVNO on Sprint's network. T-Mobile, too, is looking to enter the MVNO provider fray, as it's keen to attract partnerships from other cable providers.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Howard Rheingold starts off 2005 by posting a manifesto for the mobile Internet, saying it must be open and user-driven, and a place where users are free to determine its future.