Is U.S. Wireless Industry Catching Up on 3G?

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2004-10-26

Is U.S. Wireless Industry Catching Up on 3G?

SAN FRANCISCO—Wireless software developers and content producers attending the CTIA Wireless show here say the United States is on the verge of catching up with Europe and Japan in the deployment of the latest wireless technology and content.

The United States has long been characterized as working in the shadows of its counterparts in Europe and Japan in terms of deploying advanced 3G (third-generation) wireless technology. But this image is steadily fading as competing wireless carriers compete to offer the most advanced and fastest 3G wireless voice and data networks with sophisticated content.

Benjamin Hautefeuille, project manager at Burlingame, Calif.-based Victoire Inc., said he thinks U.S. wireless use and development will rapidly catch up with Europe and Japan because it is already the center of multimedia content development.

"I think they are catching up because all the content development, such as games, is here in the U.S.; its not elsewhere," said Hautefeuille, a native of France. He added that "the Americans are the biggest consumers of entertainment of all," which makes the United States a fertile market for wireless multimedia.

Victoire is a developer of wireless applications both in J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) and in Qualcomms BREW language. For Hautefeuille, one of the important developments at the show was Nokias announcement of an application distribution platform for Java and Symbian smart phone OS.

The platform, called Preminet, will enable wireless service carriers to access a catalog of games, applications and content developed for Java and the Symbian OS.

In effect, Preminet will give developers a central exchange for marketing their applications. This service will give many small and startup wireless application developers greater access to the global market than they could usually achieve through their own efforts, Hautefeuille said.

Preminet promises to give Java and Symbian OS developers the same level of visibility that Qualcomm has lent to its BREW development platform, he said.

But Hautefeuille has questions about how quickly some of the rich-media applications, such as live television and video clips, will catch on among consumers. "The screen is too small—its not too comfortable a user experience" at its current stage of development, he said. But he can see the potential value of using the technology to keep in touch with news and current events as people move around the world.

Next Page: Cashing in on ring-tone mania.

Ring Tones

As evidence of the growing U.S. interest in mobile entertainment, CTIA president Steve Largent reported that the U.S. mobile market currently generates $300 million in revenue out of a global market of $3.1 billion. The sale of ring tones and games generates $146 million in revenue in the United States.

Ring tones are becoming such a revenue generator and market mover that Billboard will start to publish the top 20 ring-tone sales by the end of this month.

Click here to read about adding touch to ring tones.

The interest in advanced wireless video and audio applications is also apparent on the CTIA show floor. This year, there seems to be a lot more emphasis on streaming video and live video broadcasts, said Nimish Shrivastava, president and chief technology officer at Embience Inc., a San Diego-based developer of wireless application software.

A demonstration of a CNBC television broadcast on a wireless handset "was quite impressive," Shrivastava said. He noted that some of the wireless service providers demonstrated the MobiTV wireless television service on their handsets.

It remains to be seen how quickly these applications will be readily available to consumers, he said. The adoption of video services and feature-rich video will depend on the steady expansion of bandwidth to support these broadcasts, he said.

But his main interest is in the market for wireless application software. For Embience, the steady increase in wireless equipments technical capabilities provides new opportunities for development applications for platforms his company supports, he said, including BREW, Symbian and J2ME.

What are vendors touting at the CTIA Wireless show? Click here to read more.

Elena Sofko, licensing sales director at Stamford, Conn.-based A&E Television Networks, came to CTIA to see how wireless technology is evolving to support broadcasting of network content. "Its exciting to see all the new stuff coming down the pike," she said.

A&E owns a number of familiar cable channel brands, including the History Channel, the Arts & Entertainment channel and the Biography channel.

Content producers are already making money from distributing "ring tones, ring backs, wallpaper and games, and my company is into all of those businesses," she said.

The wireless market offers potential opportunities for cable channels to distribute content that complements but doesnt cannibalize its cable content, she said. It might be a mini-biography, a promotional spot for a new show or a schedule reminder, she said.

In some ways, the strong investment in wireless technology and content resembles the Internet boom, Sofko said. "But they are being smarter about it in terms of building business cases" that confirm there are real markets for the latest services, she said.

In certain respects, the wireless industry has been "conspicuously silent" about future directions so it wont get too far ahead of itself in promising new features or services before consumers are ready to accept them, Sofko said.

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