This year’s 3GSM conference, held in Barcelona, brought the usual unveiling of new handsets and devices. However, it was the issues raised and the news on developing network technologies that caused the greatest stir.
Companies showcased new devices, products and tools, such as Microsoft’s PlayReady digital rights management (DRM) system.
PlayReady is designed to make DRM appealing to users by allowing them to share protected files between several devices. Microsoft says it will even work on mobiles that aren’t running Windows, claiming that Verizon and O2 are already signed up.
Several partnerships were announced including tie-ups between BT, HTC and Hewlett-Packard, and Nokia teaming up with Siemens. BT’s venture will see its first foray into smartphones anchored on Windows Mobile 6, for its business mobile VoIP services. Announcing the creation of Nokia Siemens Networks, chief executive Simon Beresford-Wylie says: "Nokia Siemens Networks will be positioned to help our customers capture opportunities that will arise as the connected community swells to around 5 billion by 2015. In 2015, we will live in a broadband-IP world, in which 5 billion people will, in practice, be ‘always on’, connected to the Web, rich content, services and, of course, each other."
He also admitted that the mobile industry had been guilty of over-hyping previous developments such as 3G and WiFi, but promised a brighter future lay ahead with the rise of Wimax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). Indeed, the developments in broadband Wimax technology and the rise of data and entertainment services, dominated the agenda at 3GSM.
WiMax can offer entire cities wireless broadband connections, and the developing world, where mobile growth is at its fastest, looks set to reap the benefits. Mobile phone take-up in Asia is phenomenal: there are more than 400 million users in China and this is set to rise by another 160 million by 2010, according to Nokia; in India, meanwhile, 6 million handsets are sold a month.
And with growing interest in emerging markets among the networks, the GSM Association called for developing countries to cut taxes levied against mobile users, saying such a move would boost economic growth. It said that according to research from Deloitte: "In a developing country, an increase of ten percentage points in mobile penetration will lift that country’s annual economic growth rate by 1.2 percentage points."
GSM Association said that 16 out of 101 countries surveyed taxed mobiles as luxury items and labelled such measures as "counterproductive". In some East African countries, taxes account for between 25 and 30% of the total cost of owning a mobile phone compared with a global average of 17.4 per cent. Turkey levies the highest tax, accounting for 44% of the cost.
Nonetheless, the industry’s commitment to these markets was demonstrated by the announcement that the GSM Association and Mastercard are launching a trial to make it easier for international migrant workers to send money home and "significantly more affordable". Meanwhile, 19 mobile operators, with 600 million customers in more than 100 countries, are teaming up with banks at a local or regional level, to the same end.
Back home and in the world of mobile entertainment, Codemasters is introducing a raft of mobile games via Glu Mobile, and Warner Music Group (WMG) announced it is to deliver music to mobiles in Europe and Asia in a tie-up with Teleno, the Norwegian mobile operator. The agreement will see WMG’s large catalogue of songs, ringtones and video offered through Telenor’s mobile network.
Mobile TV, heralded as the development of 2006 has had a slow and faltering start, but IP Wireless said its mobile TV trial in Bristol, in conjunction with Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, and 3 had proved a success.
The trial demonstrated that 3G broadcasting won’t interfere with existing 3G services, and that operators already own enough capacity for 14 TV channels each – capacity that is presently lying unused.
Figures from M:Metrics were not so promising. Its survey of 22,000 European mobile users showed that consumers remain unconvinced about mobile TV, with high cost being cited as the main prohibitive factor. It said that 45% of user disconnections were caused by high costs, with 24% of users citing poor quality and reliability.
Yahoo! turned up in a confident mood as it launched its new downloadable mobile internet application, Go, which brought a cheer to marketers hungry for new ideas. Marco Boerries, senior vice-president of Yahoo!’s connected life division, says the future of the mobile internet is a bright one owing to the fact that take-up would certainly increase.
He takes the view that advertising will be the driving force behind growth: "We want to monetise it and we believe mobile advertising is the missing ingredient."
He says advertising is a scalable business, adding: "You build inventory and engagement. Once you do that, then you have an advertising business. That’s the missing link… bring the Net to the phone, and not the phone to the Net."