3GSM: Mobile show to signal no end to innovation

Visitors attending the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona next 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 Global System for Mobile Communications (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 center to accommodate the crowds, replaced by a much larger venue in the Spanish metropolis.

What to expect in Spain? Plenty.

Some of the themes talked about last year will surface as products this year, including High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) mobile phones, dual-mode handsets supporting both GSM and Wi-Fi technologies, and handsets capable of receiving broadcast TV signals.

Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc., never one to miss an opportunity to show its eagerness for using the latest technologies, will demonstrate HSDPA handsets from Fujitsu Ltd., Motorola Inc. and NEC Corp. The "super 3G" phones are capable of downloading data at 3.6Mbit/sec. on the move, a rate nearly 10 times faster than current third-generation (3G) technology.

Nokia is one of several vendors rumored to be unveiling 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, for instance, Deutsche Telekom AG plans to launch a dual-mode phone that will let customers in Germany make calls from their Digital Subscriber Line connections at home or remotely from one of the carrier's Wi-Fi hot spots or GSM network, said CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke last week in Berlin.

At 3GSM, Samsung Electronics Co. will unveil what it claims will be the first mobile phone for the European market supporting the Terrestrial Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (T-DMB) 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 Digital Audio Broadcasting digital radio technology, which is widely used in Europe.

The competing broadcast mobile TV standard is Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld, or DVB-H, which is supported by Nokia, Motorola Inc., NEC Corp. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB.

Open-source software, including the Linux operating system, is expected to surface in several new handsets targeting both the business and consumer markets. Trolltech AS, 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 e-mail, another hot technology in the mobile phone sector.

Interest in push e-mail has grown significantly among operators and enterprises alike, fueled by the popularity of the BlackBerry technology developed by Research In Motion Ltd. And while RIM impatiently waits for a resolution in its patent infringement lawsuit with NTP Inc., rivals are seizing the opportunity to win over BlackBerry customers (see "BlackBerry lawsuit FAQ: What you need to know").

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

Several other suppliers of push e-mail technology for mobile phones, including Visto Corp., plan to make announcements in Barcelona.

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

Skype Technologies SA, 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 Inc., 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," said Rene Obermann, a board member of Deutsche Telekom and chairman of T-Mobile International AG. "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 Corp., for instance, will demonstrate the simultaneous uplink and downlink of wireless calls between two mobile devices at speeds that are four times faster than current 3G services. The demonstration will use the company's UMTS Base Transceiver Station and Aeroflex Inc.'s TM500 handset simulator to exchange VoIP, videos and files at uplink speeds of 1.4Mbit/sec., combing both High-Speed Uplink Packet Access and HSDPA in simultaneous operation.

The GSM World Congress run from Feb. 13-16.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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