Mobile show to signal no end to innovation

HSDPA, HDTV on your handset and dual mode phones awaiting visitors to the world's largest mobile phone conference

Visitors attending the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona this week may find little time to enjoy the city’s great sights and food. This year’s event is shaping up to be one of the biggest and busiest ever, with plenty of new technologies, services and gadgets to make their debut in the Catalonian capital.

The congress and exhibition brings operators and equipment manufacturers in the GSM community together from around the world to talk shop. The event will take place for the first time in Barcelona after being held for more than a decade on the shores of the Mediterranean in Cannes, France. Gone will be the string of tents adjoining the congress centre to accommodate the crowds, replaced by a much larger venue in the Spanish metropolis.

Some of the themes talked about last year will surface as products this year, including HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) mobile phones, currently under trial at Vodafone New Zealand, dual-mode handsets supporting both GSM and wi-fi technologies, and handsets capable of receiving broadcast TV signals.

Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, never one to miss an opportunity to show its eagerness for using the latest technologies, will demonstrate HSDPA handsets from Fujitsu, Motorola and NEC. The “super 3G” phones are capable of downloading data 3.6Mbit/s on the move, a rate nearly ten times faster than present 3G (third-generation) phones.

Nokia is one of several vendors expected to unveil new dual-mode 3G and wi-fi phones in Barcelona. The vendors are responding to demand from telecom companies that own wireless and wireline networks and are keen to offer dual-mode phones to keep customers using both.

In the second half of this year Deutsche Telekom plans to launch a dual-mode phone that will let customers in Germany make calls from their DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection at home or remotely from one of the carrier’s wi-fi hotspots or GSM network, says chief executive officer Kai-Uwe Ricke.

At 3GSM, Samsung Electronics will unveil what it claims will be the first mobile phone for the European market supporting the T-DMB (Terrestrial Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) standard, one of two planned in Europe.

Samsung’s SGH-P900 will be used for test broadcasts during this year’s World Cup soccer tournament in Germany. The T-DMB standard is already used in Samsung’s home market of South Korea for TV broadcasting to mobile phones. It is based on the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) digital radio technology, which is widely used in Europe.

The competing broadcast mobile TV standard is DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld), which is supported by Nokia, Motorola, NEC and SonyEricsson.

Open-source software, including the Linux operating system, is expected to surface in several new handsets targeting both the business and consumer markets. Trolltech, which in 2004 agreed to deliver its embedded Linux development platform to Motorola, plans to make an announcement in Barcelona.

On the application front, open source is also coming to push email, another hot technology in the mobile phone sector.

Interest in push email has grown significantly among operators and enterprises alike, fuelled by the popularity of the BlackBerry technology developed by Research In Motion. And while RIM impatiently waits for a resolution in its patent infringement lawsuit, rivals are seizing the opportunity to win over BlackBerry customers.

Funambol will demonstrate a beta version of its open-source, push email technology. The product, Funambol v3, pushes email from the back-end server into whatever email client is already on the phone. Handset users can send, receive and forward messages and also synchronise calendars, to-do lists, contacts and other data.

Several other suppliers of push email technology for mobile phones, including Visto, plan announcements in Barcelona.

Another hot topic is VoIP technology. A growing force in the fixed-line market, VoIP is on its way to the mobile market.

Skype Technologies, a household name in fixed-line VoIP, has been reaching out to collaborate with mobile phone operators and handset manufacturers. The company, which was acquired last year by eBay, is holding a news conference in Barcelona.

If only a few years ago mobile operators refused to acknowledge the possibility of IP-based telephone calls being initiated and terminated over their networks, they can no longer.

“We can’t block this development in the long term,” says René Obermann, a board member of the Deutsche Telekom and chairman of T-Mobile International. “But before we can offer it, we must first resolve some issues such as quality of service and security.”

Speed continues to be a big issue in mobile communications, especially for data services. Several vendors plan to use the Barcelona event to show their high-speed networking systems.

Nortel Networks will demonstrate the simultaneous uplink and downlink of wireless calls between two mobile devices at speeds that are four times faster than current GSM-based services. The demonstration will use the company’s UMTS Base Transceiver Station and Aeroflex’s TM500 handset simulator to exchange VOIP, videos and files at uplink speeds of 1.4Mbit/s, combing both HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access) and HSDPA in simultaneous operation.

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