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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 09:34 GMT
What can your mobile do for you?
By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, BBC News

View of Barcelona
The show moved from Cannes because it needed a bigger city
An opportunity to get up close and personal with Hollywood icon Robert Redford is among the highlights at the annual World Mobile Congress (formerly known as 3GSM).

Rubbing shoulders with mobile operators, content providers and handset manufacturers in the Gaudi-inspired streets of Barcelona will be plenty of big web brands and representatives from the world of entertainment - including Redford, who will be one of the conference's key speakers.

Every year there is a debate about just how much the mobile handset can do and whether it can become the all-encompassing device for gadget lovers.

With phones on show packing plenty of memory, some think the phone is ready to compete with digital music players.

"It could finally become a credible alternative to the stand-alone music player," said Ben Wood, director of research at analyst firm CCS Insight.

Among technologies that will enhance this idea is Dolby's newly launched surround sound for mobiles. It will use the congress to announce deals with Symbian, Texas Instruments, ARM and RMI.

Its Dolby Mobile system will also support video, and video is likely to be a big talking point.

Film star

Robert Redford
Redford will be talking about making short movies just for mobiles

To date the mobile industry has flirted with films with Motorola shipping its Z8 handset with The Bourne Identity and Nokia offering users of its N95 8GB model, the Spiderman 3 movie.

That's where Robert Redford, star of movies such as Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and All The President's Men and director of films including Ordinary People, comes in.

His keynote speech will examine the opportunity of making bespoke short films for mobiles.

Most analysts now agree that watching a full-length feature film on a mobile phone is unlikely to appeal to many mobile users.

Instead it will be bite-sized highlights and news and sports clips which will capture consumers' imaginations.

With Apple offering already offering iPod users over 500 TV series and with 120m TV shows sold to date, it could be the firm that heralds the newly portable video age.

"People will put TV shows on their iPods and ask why they can't have that on their mobiles, then find out that they can," said Mr Wood.

The market for user-generated content should also not be underestimated.

"The YouTube generation watch far more user-generated content than they do packaged content. If the network structure and the pricing can be got right that could take off in a big way," said Margaret Rice-Jones, chief executive of mobile consultants Aircom.

Cheaper network

For operators the biggest question remains how to make money from services and for years it has been kicking around the idea of mobile advertising.

The marriage of operators keen to make money from ads and consumers who find them intrusive is likely to remain a tricky one although there are suggestions that, for some, it could be a happy relationship.

Blyk offers a free network to 16-24 year-olds in return for advertising and has generated a response rate of 29% among its target group.

More appealing for consumers might be the idea that the mobile network can finally compete and prove cheaper than fixed line.

With 3G networks in Europe now capable of offering speeds of up to 8Mbps (megabits per second) and with memory sticks and dongles that offer high-speed access without the need for wires, there are even rumblings about how much we need fixed line access.

"Mobile broadband is more than capable of competing with the fixed-line broadband market in certain socio-demographic groups," said Michael Phillips, product director of

People who rent - from young professionals to students and foreign workers - might find the no-contract obligations of mobile broadband more attractive that having to pay landline activation charges.

Copycat iPhones

The iPhone
The iPhone is likely to prompt plenty of lookalike phones

But for many, 3GSM will remain a good excuse to look at some pretty cool phones.

Half of the population of the UK updates its phone every year so finding a good enough reason to upgrade is becoming imperative.

This year, tempting the wallets of the compulsive mobile shopper will be phones made of new materials, such as carbon fibre, alongside the perennial fashion accessories and branded handsets.

In a nod to the mobile's new role as social network and user-generated content platform, plenty of handsets with keyboards will also be on show as will plenty of copycat iPhones.

"We will see plenty of 'me too' touch screen phones, many of which won't reach the high bar that Apple has set," said Mr Wood.

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