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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 08:25 GMT
Mobiles look to entertain you
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

New mobile on show at 3GSM
Operators want people to do more with their mobiles
Pop star Craig David took to the stage to serenade attendees at the mobile phone world's annual summit in Barcelona this week.

His performance opened the mobile entertainment summit at the 3GSM World Congress and was a timely reminder of how swiftly handsets are morphing into media devices.

Numerous deals and alliances announced at the show underscored how so-called content - be it music, video clips, images or TV shows - is starting to matter to mobile operators.

At the show Virgin announced a tie-up with BT and Microsoft to offer TV on mobiles, O2 unveiled a deal with HP and Virgin Radio on interactive radio services, Motorola and Microsoft got together to put the Windows Media Player on handsets, and Ericsson and Napster linked up to offer download services.

Before now, Motorola unveiled a phone with the iTunes music player on it and Nokia talked up a handset with a multi-gigabyte hard drive on it.

The list goes on and shows how determined mobile operators are for the handset to become a store for, and guide to, any and every kind of media.

Follow the money

In some respects they have no choice but to pursue this course as their strategy for making money out of third-generation networks demands that users download far more data than they do today.

Third-generation (3G) networks make voice calls so cheap that operators can no longer rely on that service for their biggest slice of income.

Ministry of Sound party-goers, PA
If we were going to embrace the community more, it had to be user-generated. We want to make them the superstars of the site and give them exposure
Matt Dicks, Ministry of Sound
They hope that media on mobiles will become the money earner that offsets the cash lost from voice call revenue.

Some broader trends of net use suggest that these strategies could pay off. Many people are starting to use their camera phone to take snaps of what they see, who they are with and what they are doing.

Often these images get uploaded to online photo albums and some people populate their own mobile weblog, or moblog, with the snaps they take. Some are even uploading videos they have shot.

The Ministry of Sound superclub is one organisation seeking to use this trend and at 3GSM unveiled a service that lets club goers upload and share videos.

Revenue from the uploads is shared with the person that shot the short clip.

Matt Dicks, head of media at The Ministry of Sound, said there was a large community of regular Ministry goers interested in the service.

He said it also helped the Ministry do more with its website which is currently more of an information point than a community touch-stone.

"If we were going to embrace the community more, it had to be user-generated," said Mr Dicks. "We want to make them the superstars of the site and give them exposure."

Misplaced hopes

Mobile phone firms might also be able to tap into trends that show how the consumption of media is changing.

Increasing numbers of net users are using syndication systems so they can download episodes of the shows they like and watch them at their convenience. Many store such shows on portable media players and watch or listen on the go.

With the memory on phones growing all the time, it may not be too far in the future when that portable media device is a phone rather than an iPod.

Wall of TV screens, AFP
TV could find its way to mobile phones
But there are some factors that suggest the mobile operators' dream of skies swimming with data are misplaced.

To begin with, it is unlikely that mobile users will want to download huge amounts of data while on the move. This is simply because although 3G networks pump data around faster than ever, it is still painfully slow to download lots of data to a phone.

Current pricing systems which only let people download a certain amount of data per month also mitigate against this, although these are starting to change. For instance Vodafone's Live! service only charges for what people buy, such as a game, not to transport it to their handset.

There has been much talk of phone owners watching TV on their handsets and there are many trials of these systems in place.

However, feedback from the trials suggest that putting in place the infrastructure to let lots of people watch while they walk, along with the cost of subsidising handsets, might make it an expensive proposition for operators.

It is also not clear whether users will be able to sit and watch long TV programs while they commute. Initially coverage may be a problem and, if people are commuting, they may not be stationary for long enough to enjoy an entire episode at one time.

It is more likely that people will sign up to see clips at key moments such as when their favourite football team scores.

But if the exact future of mobile media is unclear because so many deals are being signed and technologies are being tried out, it is obvious that your phone is going to be at the centre of the storm.

Hold on and keep watching.

See delegates attending the conference

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