Entertainment the mobile mantra
With 3G markets worldwide either stuck in neutral or driving slowly uphill, communications systems vendors and network operators have a new mantra: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.
The eye-catching models and dancers, Star Wars characters, lucky draws and hip-hop music blaring from hi-fi speakers at last week's CommunicAsia tradeshow in Singapore were there to point visitors to the main attraction.
'There is a new media channel emerging to millions of consumers,' said Carl-Henric Svanberg, president and chief executive at Ericsson. 'Both music and television are entering handsets as the technical capability for this develops rapidly.'
That development was apparent last week in the product applications featured in the booths of major mobile handset makers at the Singapore expo.
Samsung Electronics, Sony Ericsson, Panasonic, Motorola and LG Electronics have all focused on handsets that can handle an array of digital entertainment applications - from mobile television and gaming to video and music downloads - as partner service providers pitch new services that take advantage of the high-speed cellular network connections available today.
Their handsets are expected to work with subscription music services based on a recent alliance between Napster and Ericsson.
Mobile Napster will scale to current handset models and networks, whether 2G or 3G. It will also work on mobiles from all major manufacturers that support content protected by digital rights management, an industry standard to protect intellectual property rights.
A Singapore-wide trial last week of the standard called Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds - led by Nokia, cellular operator M1 and broadcast firm Mediacorp - allowed the other handset makers to play up the video recording and playback capabilities of their new 3G and non-3G models. But will TV on the mobile handset turn out to be just a hyped-up technology?
'That doesn't seem likely' said ABI Research principal analyst Alan Varghese in a report.
'For one thing, the concept of mobility does not necessarily mean that the user himself is moving; it could simply mean that he is not at his usual fixed locations. It could also mean that he is travelling in a train, bus or car, which, although mobile, does not preclude him from watching TV on his handset.'
Comverse, a specialist telecommunications software supplier, says the growing amount of data handled by mobile phone users would mean fresh demand for a network-based storage system from service providers.
Its solution, called LifeLog, would allow an operator's subscribers to upload mobile content such as pictures, video clips, contacts and messages to a secure network storage system. With its ability to store all user information such as contact lists, depending on the operator's infrastructure capacity, subscribers could also look at the service as insurance for lost or upgraded devices.
For Ericsson, it appears the sky is the limit. The Swedish giant has launched an airborne version of its radio base station, the RBS 2708, to enable telecommunications operators and airlines to offer full GSM network access in flight.
Ulf Ewaldsson, vice-president of GSM product management at Ericsson, said: 'Consumers demand coverage any time and anywhere.'
He said that was the reason behind the new base station. The system offers up to 60 simultaneous calls on a flight, allowing airline passengers to place and receive calls when the aircraft is at cruising altitude.
'Change is the only constant in technology,' said Stephen Tan, chief executive at CommunicAsia organiser Singapore Exhibition Services.
'Users of technology must now deal with convergence, as the once distinct communications, computing and broadcasting industries come together with rich and wonderful applications.'