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Cover Story
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Cover Story - CeBIT excerpt #1 … mobile market update CeBIT excerpt #1 … mobile market update

18 March 2003
Written by Kinny Cheng


Each year, the CeBIT exhibition in Hannover, Germany is certainly an experience when it comes exposing yourself to the latest technologies. And it’s not restricted to just what’s currently available, but also those upcoming ones that hopes to redefine how we live.

For those who’ve been to CeBIT, you would know that the whole exhibition covers a variety of industries - including IT equipment, networks, security, software, and most importantly telecommunications - which is my main focus here at iMobile.

2003 @ CeBIT
After speaking to several people, 2003 seems to be a quiet year for all industries at CeBIT. Attendance is not as high as compared to previous years, and the number of announcements by manufacturers have somewhat dropped. Even though the reality of 3G is coming around the corner, the focus is still on 2.5G-based products and services - since they haven’t been exercised to their limits yet.

Both the telcos and handset manufacturers are trying to push out their products hard, and this is a norm at CeBIT. However, I feel there are variances in this for each of the different companies, which I hope to get to over the course of the next few excerpts (including this one).

Technologies overview
I figured that I should start off my CeBIT coverage with an overview of the current technologies relevant to the current GSM market - and where they are headed towards. Walking around CeBIT gave me a few insights on the possible speed and direction of the GSM mobile market.

It’s important to realise that Germany, or Europe, is somewhat ahead of the rest of the world in this specific mobile phone technology - but other countries will definitely follow a similar trend in due time (when they feel that their market is ready).

GSM and data connectivity (GPRS)
There are virtually no new technologies available for the GSM market, given that you consider the ability to send and receive MMS content (whether it’s a photo or video clip) being an already-current capability. At the same time, many manufacturers seem to be treading the MMS road ever so slowly proven by the fact that only a small number of handsets had premiered at CeBIT.

Data-wise, GPRS is still king and won’t be overthrown for some time to come. Even with data technologies like EDGE and UMTS offering faster connections to networks, the issue of their cost-effectiveness is still a grey cloud hanging in the sky. MMS should further the use of GPRS. But realistically, adoption of such a technology will only occur only when it becomes feasible.

All handsets that were shown off at CeBIT this year came with GPRS support, which means that we should see more realistic pricing in GPRS access soon.

MMS (multimedia messaging service)
Even though MMS is being included in almost all new colour models announced at CeBIT, there is still a long way for this standard to go.

It’s like SMS evolving into picture messaging (that is, Nokia’s Picture Messaging standard and EMS messaging), where MMS is actually capable of including not just still images, but possibly the sending and receiving of short video clips. Most people would know MMS as the ability to send photos in a message - fed into our minds by marketing campaigns. But it is actually capable of much more…

Some of the manufacturers with no MMS handsets have shown off new models to support this. Panasonic has added the G60 and X70 to their list of mobiles supporting MMS (to be available around second to third quarter of this year), while Samsung will release several new models (SGH-P400, -P410, -D700 smartphone) later in the year after its recent SGH-V200 launch. French handset manufacturer Sagem has just premiered their myX-6 model with built-in camera and MMS messaging as well.

Samsung SGH-P410 (1) Samsung SGH-P410 (2) Samsung SGH-D700 (1) Samsung SGH-D700 (2)

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Apart from the current Nokia 3650 which supports video messaging, not many others are taking the plunge just yet. Out of the many models I’ve come across since my first day at CeBIT, the only ones that really support video are the 3G-based handsets. Problem is that sending a 100-kilobyte file across GPRS isn’t fantastically fast - therefore, leaving this till later is probably a good idea after all.

MMS is still in its infancy and mobile network operators have yet to make it all work between each other. This is another hindering factor of MMS - without the ability to send between different network operators (with SMS you can), it somewhat defeats the purpose for the consumer of having such an ability on mobile phones.

Bluetooth wireless
There is certainly an increase in the uptake of this technology by a variety of handset manufacturers. The most obvious one is Samsung, premiering a range of Bluetooth headsets, a Bluetooth remote control, and their first Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone.

But when you look at the market today, each manufacturer seems to only have a limited number of models supporting this wireless standard. This is actually better than before, when only a handful of manufacturers thought that it was worth having a product on the market that supported this (for example, Nokia and Sony Ericsson).

Samsung BT Headset
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Samsung BT Headset
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Samsung BT Headset
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Samsung BT Adaptors

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Siemens showed off their SX1 smartphone, which will go head-to-head with Nokia’s 7650 and 3650 products. All three products come with Bluetooth, allowing its user to synchronise their device with a PC or possibly using a Bluetooth audio device with it (with the exception of the 7650, which does not support Bluetooth audio). It will be interesting to see how these three phones perform as all run the Symbian Series 60 platform, with the differentiator being the hardware design and feature offering.

Other models to come with Bluetooth support include Panasonic’s X70, Samsung’s SGH-X410, and Motorola’s V600 folder phone - proof that Bluetooth is finally taking off for good.

Siemens SX1 (1) Siemens SX1 (2) Samsung SGH-X410 (1) Samsung SGH-X410 (2)

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I guess there are several hindering factors that is affecting the uptake of Bluetooth technology - the uncertainty consumers possess on device compatibility, the cost involved in acquiring Bluetooth devices, and the somewhat negative feedback by individuals all thanks to “compatibility issue” obscurity. When you piece these together, it just doesn’t help.

And surprisingly enough, the Bluetooth standard has been given an upgrade on the range (or physical distance) it can be used at. Currently, two Bluetooth devices can only support a distance of up to 10 metres. But a new class specification has been released increasing the actual range to 100 metres, a ten-fold increase. This may actually provide the needed “push” to popularise this wireless standard once and for all.

3G
Third-generation networks won’t be something that most of us are eyeing on for quite some time. Sure, they have all these great features that may just make life a little different - but at the end of the day, the cost-to-benefit factor which plays an important part in whether it’s worthwhile or not.

What most people know about WCDMA and UMTS networks are that they can stream audio and video clips and possibly conduct video calls through compatible handsets. Also, people with 3G-based handsets will be able to access the Internet at much-higher speeds than what is possible with today’s handsets, even if they were to have GPRS. Again, we go back to the issue of cost-benefit - with the biggest question being “do we really need all this” after learning of how expensive it can be!

Virtually all handset manufacturers showed off their upcoming products for the 3G networks at CeBIT, including current and concept models. Both Motorola and Siemens have the U10 and A830 3G models respectively - where they are actually sister models being branded differently. Nokia had their 6650 model announced late last year, while Sony Ericsson’s Z1010 handset (announced at the 3G Congress in Cannes, France) will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.

To really appreciate what 3G has to offer, we may need another year when more of these next-generation networks actually go live.

Siemens U10 (1) Siemens U10 (2) Sony Ericsson Z1010 (1) Sony Ericsson Z1010 (2)

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What’s next?
In the next excerpt, I’ll probably give you an overview of the handsets that are coming our way from most of the major manufacturers, and thoughts on how they are affecting the market.

More from CeBIT soon!


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