Mobile World Congress Day Two

Microsoft scrubs up Windows Mobile - by Tony Cripps, principal analyst

The latest iteration of Microsoft's Windows Mobile experience offers a more attractive, consumer-friendly face than previously but lacks any real "wow" factor, following as it does, in the wake of others that were there earlier.

Version 6.5 of the OS itself offers a new home screen, featuring hexagonally-organized application shortcuts as well as live notifications of message and content updates. The OS is further enhanced through integration with cloud services, including personal information sync (My Phone) and the now obligatory application store (Windows Marketplace for Mobile).

These are essentially clones of similar services from Apple (App Store and MobileMe) and Nokia (Ovi Store and Sync) and further indicative of a move by device software vendors and manufacturers towards better integrated device/online service offerings.

Where Microsoft could score additional points, longer term, is in its potential to integrate across and extend such services between other types of internet-connected device. Its popular Xbox 360 games console is an obvious target here (any takers for Xbox integration with Windows Mobile‾) as are any future Zune media players. Evidence of such thinking would help Microsoft regain its Mojo and fulfill CEO Steven Ballmer's joined-up vision.

Spectrum crucial for mobile broadband - by Emeka Obiodu, senior analyst

The GSMA is making a strong case for more spectrum for mobile broadband, arguing that it could help the global economy to overcome the credit crunch. In a high profile stunt, the organization, together with CEOs of some of the leading mobile companies, called for 100MHz out of the 400MHz digital dividend spectrum to be set aside for mobile broadband. Importantly too, the GSMA is urging governments to adopt a harmonized approach to the spectrum that will "˜allow the same devices to be used in many different countries and enable vendors to achieve economies of scale'.

Although much of what the GSMA had to say is already known to governments and regulators, it is important that the GSMA continues to lobby hard. The benefits of spectrum for mobile broadband, especially in the low frequency range, can not be overstated.

If there is any hope of extending broadband services to rural areas cheaply, then governments and regulators must heed the GSMA's call to set aside the spectrum. As Alexander Izosimov, VimpelCom's CEO and the current GSMA chairman said, "additional spectrum is not a luxury but an absolute necessity for future growth."

Omnifone, omnipresent- by Michele Mackenzie, principal analyst

Omnifone, the provider of music services to mobile operators and device vendors, has announced at the MWC that it is extending its service offering to provide music services to ISPs. The new service, MusicStation Next Generation, will allow users to download music to the PC and the STB. The service, which comprises unlimited music downloads and streaming, is expected to be bundled into new subscription packages and offered to existing customers as an add on.

Until now Omnifone has focused its service offering more on the mobile industry but it is now expanding its reach, albeit positioning this development as a means for ISPs to fight piracy. It is reported that BSkyB will be one of the first takers of the new service.

 

Of course, every new music announcement is positioned by the press as "a potential rival to iTunes" and maybe it is.

But more importantly, it is part of a wider strategy by industry players to offer a comprehensive portfolio of multimedia services, a one stop shop to retain customers and attract new customers. Given the low margins involved in digital music, outsourcing to a trusted music provider, keeping costs to a minimum and providing a quality service to end users is the most sensible approach.

Vodafone signal booster trials: The end of femtocells‾ - by Steven Hartley, senior analyst

Vodafone has announced a trial of 3G signal repeaters in several markets, after the successful completion of initial trials in Egypt. The technology provides a boost to in-building wireless coverage, much like femtocells,

This doesn't look like the end of femtocells, even though there haven't been many announcements in this space this week. Vodafone has stressed to us that this is not a sign that it is giving up on femtocells.

It sees a different usage case for the repeaters. It has not yet revealed further details, but, for example, they could be used in emerging markets where poor fixed infrastructure prevents femtocell backhaul.

However, repeaters also offer a fixed mobile substitution opportunity in more mature markets and could serve customers happy to cut their fixed line. Even if Vodafone doesn't eventually use them in this way, there is certainly potential for other mobile operators to take this approach. For example, 3 Ireland recently announced that repeaters would be part of its winning bid for the Irish government's National Broadband Scheme for rural areas.

Commerce and philanthropy combine to help emerging markets - by Eden Zoller, principal analyst

It's proving a busy week for the GSMA, which today announced a project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to bring low cost mobile financial services to people in emerging markets.

The Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) programmed will put $12.5 million on the table and work closely with operators, governments, banks and other stakeholders to accelerate the roll-out of services.

The MMU has what should be an effective agenda, combining commercial opportunity with services that are of genuine benefit to unbanked people. Ovum forecasts that mobile money transfers in the Middle East and Africa will grow from $1 billion in 2008 to $20 billion in 2012.

And there is already strong evidence that mobile payments in emerging markets can be successful for all parties concerned. The best known is probably the Vodafone Safaricom M-Pesa service in Kenya, which totaled 4.2 million users at the end of September 2008, transferring around Euro 100 million in funds every month, mostly in small sums of between Euro 5-20.

There are of course other initiatives of this kind, and service provider Zain today announced a new mobile banking called Zap that it hopes will bring services to over 100 million people in East Africa. Hopefully the MMU program results in many more of these services launching in the near future.

 

Nokia, Qualcomm thaw lets S60 through the American ice- by Tony Cripps, principal analyst

Proof that the unthinkable can happen, plans have been revealed to bring the Symbian-based S60 handset software to Qualcomm MSM chipsets, as part of a fresh Nokia drive into the US. Despite the immediate target of the venture being UMTS handsets, rather than CDMA devices, that shouldn't devalue the significance of the venture, either for Nokia or Qualcomm.

The US remains something of a final frontier for Nokia with Qualcomm the perfect partner to help change that. Meanwhile, Qualcomm stands to benefit from the expanded addressable market for its chipsets that the recent thaw in relations with Nokia (following October 2008's $2.29 billion technology licensing settlement) has allowed. This is the best evidence yet that the entente can be more than just cordiale.

 

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