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Optical/IP

Fashion v Fun

Fashion and Fun used to go together, didn’t they? Not in the mobile data world it seems. Among the traders and analysts of the world’s stock markets today's fashion appears to be to to take every opportunity to knock data and the prospects for 3G. But where’s the fun in that? At best these people are mischievous; at worst they’re fatally pessimistic. Maybe they just need to get out more and start using mobile data. Having spent a day recently at the Mobile Commerce World show in London testing a whole bunch of new services and devices, I think they’ll enjoy themselves. But what did I see that was so much fun that it could persuade the skeptics to wise up and see beyond today’s tired fashions? First off, everything I tested worked superbly over existing GPRS networks. But perhaps the major difference today, compared to six months or a year ago, is the commercial availability of the Nokia 7650 Imaging Phone based on the Symbian Ltd./Series 60 software platform. For the show’s mobile phone cognoscenti it was pretty much the only handset worth having, and (although a few exhibitors were using the Sony Ericsson T68i) as far as I could tell, nobody bothered much with the Siemens AG and Motorola Inc. Java phones or the Samsung Electronics and Trium color-screen handsets. Personally, I have great hopes that the soon-to-be-launched Sony Ericsson P800 (see Sony Ericsson Races Santa) and Microsoft-inspired SmartPhones will give Nokia a run for its money. But since neither of these vendors were present at the show I decided to check out the new Nokia 3650, which I reckon will follow up on the success of the 7650 to become the next "must-have" device. To be fair, the 3650 isn’t actually shipping yet and won’t be in the shops until early 2003; but the demo version on hand at the Nokia stand was pretty cool (actually it was well guarded by Jaakko, Nokia’s MMS solutions guy, and any style points he gained from having a cool phone were wiped out by his special clip-onto-your-belt phone holster that only the Finns and Americans seem totally unembarrassed about wearing). But, I hear you ask: It’s built on the same software platform as the 7650 – so what’s the difference? Err, well… it can take, send, and receive digital video clips! Impressive or what? The look‘n’feel of the 3650 is also less businesslike than the 7650, and, although it has a weird, rotary-style key pad (apparently a stylistic nod to the olden days), the 3650 is really easy to use. Best of all, it’s set to cost at least €200 less than the unsubsidized price of the 7650 – and it will be tri-band, so will work in North America, where Jaakko figures it’ll be the first proper MMS phone on the market. Now, about those new wireless data services...
  • It's no surprise that everyone's getting clued up on MMS (multimedia messaging service) and, again, I've got no time for the skeptics here. MMS is undoubtedly a lot of fun, and as an added bonus, it has some serious, money-saving, productivity-enhancing uses for business customers. I’m therefore convinced that it's going to be huge for the operators and will soon drive up handset replacement levels. The only snag is that none of the MMS services launched in Europe to date allow users to send messages between networks – something that obviously has to change.
  • Finnish startup Oplayo Oy showed an impressive streaming-media-over-GPRS service. Short video clips were downloaded over the air (across Vodafone’s network, since you ask) to the aforementioned 7650 handset. The viewing quality of the clip wasn’t fantastic, but it was certainly adequate for, say, watching replays of crucial scores by your favourite sports team. And significantly, this wasn’t a demo – it’s a commercial service that you can pay for over Bango!.net.
  • Bango!.net itself is worth a mention, since it’s a quick and easy way for publishers to monetize their content and solves the problem of how to collect micro-payments in real time. In short, it works by allocating a WAP or, say, a Java games download site a Bango! number that users can easily enter into their mobile phones instead of the full URL or WAP address. I downloaded (for testing purposes only of course) the 7650 version of Mobile Repton (Bango! No. 737866). Level 1 of the game cost about $1, most of which will find its way back to the game’s publisher, Masabi.
  • Vodafone Group plc was showing off its “m-pay cards” service that has just launched in the U.K. and Germany and builds on its “m-pay bill” service for micro payments that was launched last February. M-pay cards enable users to charge the cost of goods to their credit cards by entering a four-digit PIN into a merchant’s Web or WAP site. I bought two cinema tickets using a WAP phone and found the process much easier than the interactive voice response systems with which moviegoers normally have to struggle.
  • All credit to Vodafone for getting this service out there; however I had been a bit concerned about the firm’s walled-garden approach. It was encouraging therefore to hear Jim Wadsworth, Vodafone’s m-pay group product manager, confirm that the m-pay system will soon interoperate with a similar system under development by T-Mobile International AG. And, according to unconfirmed reports, Orange SA and Telefónica Móviles SA are also preparing to join the scheme.
  • Over on the Alcatel SA stand I brought a Coca Cola from a GPRS-enabled vending machine. This was just a demo (albeit over live networks), but the system was certainly simple enough to use. The guys from Alcatel and HelloTech Ltd., which designed the system, gave me a long and complex explanation of how exactly it worked (apparently it involved sending data to Israel and Belgium and back again), but, to tell the truth, by this point I wasn’t really bothered. All I had to do was dial the phone number displayed on the machine and out popped a cold drink!
  • Seriously though, although this GPRS-enabled vending machine isn’t a major benefit for the consumer (who could just as easily put a coin in a machine as dial a phone number), it does have advantages for the vending machine owner, who can use the technology to operate more efficiently; and it has potential for the mobile operator that wants, for example, to bundle free drinks with a subscription plan.
Of course, I’m aware that these few examples are no substitute for a thorough analysis of the business case for 2.5G and 3G data services; and I’m aware that there are still some interoperability issues to be ironed out; and I agree with Unstrung’s Commentary: Cut Those Crazy GPRS Prices!; but I think it’s also important to step back and take a look at the fundamentals and ask: "Do the services work? Are they appealing? Is there a wow factor? Could my Mum use them?" I think the answer to these questions is a resounding "yes"; and it’s great to see all these new and innovative services at last being offered to the market. So, if you’re still a mobile data skeptic, I suggest that you come out and play. It'll be fun, I promise. — Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung
www.unstrung.com
Steve Saunders 12/4/2012 | 9:35:14 PM
re: Fashion v Fun Gabriel,

A lot of Americans are derisive of the belt clip look, too. The decision to clip a phone to a belt is typically based more on whether the person is a complete tool than their geographic location, I find. Unless, of course, the person is Welsh, in which case a belt clip is the least of their style problems.

Nice column by the way.

--Steve
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