Wireless communications was the overriding theme at this year's CeBIT Australia in Sydney last week. Though it was not quite the gadget buffet that CeBIT Hanover proved to be, there was nevertheless a choice spread for geeks to feast on. On display were advanced handsets from a number of mobile phone makers, including third-generation and CDMA 1X mobile phones from Motorola, Panasonic, Sony-Ericsson, NEC, LG and Samsung. Australia is the first country in the Asia-Pacific, outside Japan and South Korea, to roll out a commercial 3G network. Though the show was promoted as the most important 'information communications technology' event in Australia, large domestic operator Optus was not present, nor was the country's first 3G network operator, Hutchison Telecom. Vodafone, which operates a general packet radio service (GPRS) network, was the only telecoms company with a significant presence at the show. Most next-generation handsets displayed sport the popular clam-shell design, to accommodate more features in a small form. I was disappointed that none of the vendors had hands-on booths to allow visitors to experience 3G handsets and the kind of speed and services available. Instead, most of the phones were merely dummy exhibits. Some were displayed behind glass cases, some were not even switched on and all of them lacked voice services, let alone data. At an MMS show earlier this year in Hong Kong, operators had working products that visitors could use. For example, SmarTone and Sharp set up gaming stations using the Sharp GX10 handset and SmarTone's Java games using its GPRS network. With all the hype over 3G, some people had expected 3G handsets to be 'special' and to look 'different'. At the Panasonic booth, I overheard a couple of attendees from either Singapore or Malaysia, judging by their accents, remark how ordinary the Panasonic GD88 looked and that it was 'nothing special' either in looks or in features. The GD88 is a camera phone with built-in flash, which was apparently not exciting enough for them because these are features that some GPRS mobile phones already have. Indeed, all the early 3G handsets will have exactly the same features as top-end GPRS handsets. It is the services that will differentiate the two network experiences because 3G, at three to four times the speed of GPRS, will make services like downloads and e-mail swifter and smoother. In Japan, operators have launched mobile karaoke services that let subscribers choreograph their own video clips using camera phones. In Hong Kong, operators such as SmarTone and Peoples are considering similar services. Gartner Group analyst Nick Ingelbrecht estimates that Australia's handset replacement market is just 10 per cent of the total mobile phone market, whereas Hong Kong's is close to 40 per cent. Australians just do not have the same fetish for mobile phones as Hong Kong people do. Services and features would need to get a lot more compelling before people are willing to switch to a higher-speed network and pay for the extras. The telecom market in Asia, especially in Hong Kong, has always been handset-led. People buy new mobile phones because they like what they see. Few of them buy new phones for the services. They buy the smallest, lightest, trendiest mobile phone with cool new functions. They want it all - cute, light and petite, longer-lasting battery, crystal-clear reception, colour screen, good games and stereo. None of the 3G handsets I saw at the show met these criteria. Most of the vendors I spoke to admitted that these phones would not last a day without a recharge if functions such as Bluetooth, games and music were used for more than a couple of hours. Among the new crop of advanced products at the show, two caught my attention. The Sony Ericsson Z1010 is a 3G handset optimised for video applications. It has two built-in cameras and two displays - one colour, one monochrome - in a clam-shell design. The integrated camera captures still images and video, which can then be sent as MMS or e-mail. The other camera is dedicated to taking video calls, situated just below the main display near the hinge of the phone. A slot that takes Sony Memory Duo cards lets you transfer data from phone to other devices. The Kyocera 7135 Smartphone will never be available in Hong Kong because it is a CDMA 1X mobile phone. It runs the Palm 5.0 operating system on an impressive colour display and is about the same size as the Sony Ericsson Z1010, though heavier. Due to the slim design, it lacks embedded cameras. However, you use a cradle to hot-sync information back to a PC. It is selling for A$599 (about HK$2,978). Due to be released next month is the Nokia 6800. It is a definite head-turner mainly because of a flip-out keyboard that is a clever solution, unlike the earlier 5100, which was too bulky. Looking at the specifications and design of the 6800, it is almost guaranteed to be the next big seller for Nokia. Essentially a clam-shell design without a second display, it flips out to reveal a speaker and keyboard. It lets you handle the 6800 like the 5100 and formulate text messages quickly. A Java handset, it uses a Java-based e-mail client and the Symbian operating system. The 6800, however, is not a 3G handset. It is a tri-band GPRS model, has a built-in camera just under the screen and comes with FM radio. Most importantly, it is small and light - similar to the 8310 in both size and weight. I was disappointed that there was no mobile phone with integrated Wi-Fi yet. Nokia made some noises late last year about putting Wi-Fi in one of its new handsets but there has been no further indication from the company that such a product will see the light of day. Most device makers assume that the two functions overlap and there is no need to have both. This is turning out to be untrue because operators are fast realising that Wi-Fi networks will coexist and, to an extent, compete with 3G. The first devices to feature Wi-Fi, GSM and GPRS/3G will probably be from makers of handheld computers such as Hewlett-Packard and not from mobile phone makers such as Nokia. Got a gadget idea? Drop Carolyn a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .