3GSM: Wireless sharpens its edge in Barcelona

One of the industry's largest trade shows is underway this week in Spain as new phones, services and strategies take the spotlight.

Starting Monday, leaders in the mobile industry will gather at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, to discuss the hottest trends in the wireless market, from mobilizing the Web 2.0 experience to the latest and greatest devices to simply figuring out how to make money from new applications and services.

More than 60,000 visitors are expected to attend 3GSM this year, according to the GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade association representing phone operators and manufacturers that organizes the event. The trade show, which features some 1,300 stands, is among the largest wireless events in the world.

Because the show is based in Europe and draws a significant number of attendees and exhibitors from Asia, where mobile technology is typically more advanced than in North America, it often provides a sneak peak at technology and trends that will soon make it to the U.S. market.

Analysts attending this year's event say there will be several themes dominating the show floor and discussions throughout the congress. "I don't think that there will be any single theme this year," said Matt Hatton, a senior analyst for Yankee Group. "But there will be a lot of talk around taking the mobile Internet to the next level, making it a richer experience, and figuring out how to make money from it."

Mobilizing Web 2.0
A watered-down version of the mobile Internet is no longer acceptable to subscribers, Hatton said. And as a result, operators are trying to figure out ways to make surfing the Net on a handset resemble surfing the Web on a PC as closely as possible. One operator focusing on this issue, U.K.-based Vodafone Group, announced last week as a preview to 3GSM that it has struck deals with social-networking site MySpace and video-sharing site YouTube to add those applications to its handsets.

This means Vodafone subscribers will be able to access daily new videos from YouTube as well as upload content and send recommendations to their friends. Vodafone's deal with Myspace will allow almost full functionality to edit personal profiles, post to blogs and receive messages. Initially, these services will be launched in the U.K., but they'll eventually be extended across Europe using the Vodafone Live multimedia service.

Finnish-based Nokia announced a deal to bring YouTube videos and RSS feeds onto Nokia Nseries multimedia handheld computers. The videos are accessible with Nokia Web Browser with Mini Map through the new YouTube mobile site.

Some U.S operators have announced similar deals. For example, Verizon Wireless announced last year that it would offer YouTube as part of its multimedia service. And the virtual operator Helio announced a deal with Myspace.

Turner Broadcasting System and telecommunication equipment maker Ericsson agreed to collaborate on turning Turner's existing Internet, broadcast news and entertainment content--such as CNN International, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim material--into a format that can be easily viewed on mobile devices. The first of these jointly developed services, a new CNN Mobile service, will debut for European users on Monday at 3GSM.

Advertising and local search

Today Google reigns as the undisputed king of Internet search. But some mobile operators are wary of working with the 800-pound gorilla, because they fear that the search function powered by Google will undermine their own brand.

"The operators want to control the relationship with their subscriber," said Iain Gillott, founder of iGillottResearch. "And that's very difficult to do when Google's brand is so strong."

At last year's 3GSM, Vodafone announced a deal to partner with Google on its search technology. A year later, there are still few details about what Vodafone and Google would actually be doing. There are also rumors that a deal Google struck with T-Mobile is not going well.

Some industry watchers speculate that several carriers, including Cingular Wireless, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Hutchison Whampoa, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and Vodafone are planning to announce the creation of their own mobile search engine. An announcement on that subject could come soon, possibly during 3GSM.

Location, location, location
Location services coupled with search are also becoming more important, especially to advertisers who want to target people looking for specific goods and services in their area.

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