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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 07:38 GMT
Talk moves on at mobile congress
Deleagate at Telecom World
Plenty of new handsets will be on show at 3GSM
The mobile world's movers and shakers are gathering at 3GSM in Barcelona and the key talking point is how to persuade people to do more with their handsets.

User-generated content, mobile TV and location-based services are all likely to cause a buzz among the 60,000 visitors.

With one billion handsets sold last year, it is certainly in a healthy state but the majority of customers are still stuck in a talk and text world.

For Ben Wood, director at research firm CCS Insight, this year's conference will be the start of the journey to really bring the web to the mobile phone.

To succeed where earlier attempts have failed, will require the coming together of three crucial factors, he thinks.

"It is about more capable devices with a broadband experience and predictable pricing," he said.

Cool stuff

Flat-rate charging for data downloads is already happening - with 3's bundled X-series service for example - and there will be a glut of handsets with better colour screens and more memory to persuade users to make the transition from voice to data.

Also on show will be handsets that make use of a new standard - High-Speed Downlink Packet Access or HSDPA - which promises the broadband experience Mr Wood describes.

More phones were connected in India in 2006 than the population of the UK
Mike Short, Mobile Data Association
Available in high-end handsets by the end of the year, the technology may prove a good source of debate for the experts in Barcelona but will mean very little to consumers.

"Consumers should never have to talk about HSDPA. This industry is too obsessed with technology and that needs to be taken out of the equation. It should just be about cool stuff that people can do with their phones," said Mr Wood.

Already, there is plenty of cool stuff around to do with mobile phones. Among the companies chosen in O2's annual '50 to watch' list are firms that allow consumers to buy train tickets via SMS (YourRail), watch CCTV footage of motorways (MXData),and even a company that allows businesses to catch rats wirelessly (Wyless).

Net versus mobile

Taking number one slot in the list is YoSpace which allows operators such as O2, Vodafone, Orange and 3 create spaces where customers can put and share their own content.

Such services have captured the imagination of users, especially as operators such as 3 and O2 offer payouts to creators every time their video clip is downloaded.

3's service SeeMeTV has registered 12 million downloads since its launch and paid out 250,000 to contributors.

While there is obviously an appetite for such services, they could be overshadowed by more established internet brands as the recent deal between MySpace and Vodafone demonstrates.

YoSpace founder David Springall is not worried about the net heavyweights.

MySpace website
Is social networking ready for mobile?

"The difference between ourselves and the 400 pound gorillas of online is we understand the mobile space. It is a very different medium," he said.

"When contributors send in their content, we select the videos that go in the gallery. It is a competitive environment rather than a soapbox for everyone," he said.

For him, while the time is ripe for user-generated content on mobile phones, social networking is not ready to make the leap from the web to the handset.

Others think that the march of web brands towards mobile is inevitable.

"These brands are lodged in peoples' minds. A whole generation of users have learnt about internet services that are always on, with guaranteed bandwidth and at a predictable cost," said Mr Wood.

Operators desperate to maintain control and make money out of what consumers do with their handsets need to learn some basic lessons, thinks Bengt Nordstrom, a mobile expert from Swedish telecoms consultancy firm inCode Wireless.

"Operators are worried about becoming mere bit pipes. They want to retain control over content and brand but there is a growing realisation that that model doesn't work well enough," said Mr Nordstrom.

If the mobile industry wants find an application that captures the imagination in the way online brands such as eBay and MySpace have, it needs to look at the way it operates.

"The mobile industry tries to decide what is good for the user while the internet encourages innovation and creativity from the ground up," he said.

"It has to happen in mobile the same way as it does on the internet. When you ask 'where are the corresponding companies for Skype and Google in the mobile world?' there are no good answers. The mobile industry is realising that the net business model is better for fostering creativity and innovation," he said.

Asian market

3GSM is the ideal platform for mobile handset manufacturers to show off their wares and Mr Wood predicts that Nokia will go big on location-based services, while Motorola will talk up its Linux-based operating system and LG will show off the phones it has developed in partnership with designer Prada.

Wireless consumers have heard all about new high-end services that add to their monthly charges but they're still beefing about niggling problems that detract from the user experience
Bengt Nordstrom, inCode Wireless

Although the show is bound to have plenty of devices set up for mobile TV, it may not be as big this year as last, predicts Mike Short, chairman of the Mobile Data Association and vice president of research and development at O2.

"The devices are becoming available but there are still problems not least to do with spectrum rights," he said.

Alongside the "regeneration of the industry into a world of data applications," he thinks 3SGM will give more than a nod this year to countries more interested in basic functionality.

"More phones were connected in India in 2006 than the population of the UK. It is time to acknowledge, address and learn from the Asian influence," he said.

Whatever whiz-bang applications and devices are on show at 3GSM, it is important that the industry does not lose sight of real customer concerns, thinks Mr Nordstrom.

"Battery life. Coverage holes. Confusing bills. Frustrating customer services. Wireless consumers have heard all about new high-end services that add to their monthly charges but they're still beefing about niggling problems that detract from the user experience," he said.

If 3GSM was run by consumers it is likely these issues would be higher up the agenda than they might be in Barcelona.

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