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Patent for wireless video start-up can't shake doubts

PacketVideo has its first patent, but still has a long way to go to convince analysts that its technology is viable.

PacketVideo may have its first patent, but it still has a long way to go to convince analysts that its technology is viable.

The company that streams video onto handheld devices had a patent approved this week on decoding software that "maximizes battery life," an essential selling point for any technology at the whims of batteries and power packs, said Mark Banham, PacketVideo's director of engineering for core technologies.

PacketVideo expects more patents to come. But it won't be licensing the technology out, company executives said. A patent is usually cause for celebration, but in the case of PacketVideo analysts aren't so optimistic.

Even after two years of showing its technology to investors, analysts and media, PacketVideo still can't shake the impression that it's product only exists in the far-off future, like the video-watch Dick Tracy wore to fight crime in the comic books.

The patent may add a sense of legitimacy, but it still doesn't overcome other problems, such as when bandwidth will be affordable or when cell phones will be advanced enough to receive streamed video, said Jane Zweig, CEO of wireless research firm Herschel Shosteck Associates.

"They say they do it more efficiently, but then what?" Zweig said.

Gary Arlen of Arlen Communications, a wireless consulting firm, is a little more positive, but still raises the same concerns that PacketVideo may be developing a technology that won't be supported for years to come.

"It's very important for what they have in mind, and it gives the company much more credibility to pursue that," he said. "But what they are doing is at such an early stage."

PacketVideo sits in an industry that is way beyond the curve, and has been for a year trying to convince the Web-surfing public not just to surf the wireless Web, but to ratchet up their technology savvy another notch to watch streaming video over cell phones.

Chief Executive James Carol last year described the company as having more to do than just develop new technology. It was playing the role of a prosletizer for a young industry trying to win over investors and the public.

The company has also been fighting the vaporware image. It may be PacketVideo's culture--its ideas and technology remain a few feet ahead of some of the Web's more wired players. But even with the lingering suspicion that what PacketVideo was doing is more spit than polish, its acceptance has grown.

Qualcomm promised to integrate PacketVideo's products into future technology.

In August, industry talking heads hailed another milestone for PacketVideo--the release of new technologies for wireless delivery. And in December, it unveiled its PVAirguide, the closest thing the wireless Web has to a portal for video content, which comes from more than 40 content partners.