March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 08.04

Higher, Faster, Stronger

The 2004 Centennial Olympics hurdle to your mobile phone.
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By Lee Gimpel




While you may not get to the Olympics this summer, you may be able to get the games to come to you – no matter where you are. Swedish telephone company, TeliaSonera , will provide Olympics video coverage to subscribers via mobile phones and other carriers are likely to follow. But even if not all carriers are set to broadcast Olympic footage, they are busy assembling other compelling high-bandwidth wireless services for consumers. Dozens of wireless carriers around the world – including Sprint and AT&T Wireless – have already partnered with RealNetworks to provide audio and video content; additionally T-Mobile’s sports content, provided by Nokia, was made available to subscribers in June.

Granted, watching a mobile device’s tiny screen pales next to a giant plasma TV. But consumers still dig it.

In fact, with photos, audio and video, the carriers have finally found wireless data services that consumers will buy says Clint Wheelock, director of wireless research at In-Stat/MDR . As proof of the popularity of consumer wireless data, over 100 million images and short videos have been sent with Sprint’s picture mail service since its inception just two years ago and a recent In-Stat/MDR report predicts that wireless video alone will generate $5.4 billion in annual revenues by 2009.

Such numbers help the carriers justify and pay off investments in faster wireless networks says Ian Freed, vice president of mobile products and services at RealNetworks. Broad adoption may also spur further upgrades to GPRS and CDMA networks – though there is some hesitation to roll out faster systems when consumers seem satisfied with current speeds – says John Styers, director of data communications services at Sprint.

The ramifications of the wireless data surge are far-reaching. On one hand, greater usage means that more people in the workplace are comfortable interacting with mobile devices beyond simple phones. In addition, more people using highly-capable devices is likely to spark ideas about putting the technology to work in a business setting. Perhaps on-demand tutorial videos for technicians in the field?

On the other hand, while the carriers are happy to have consumers pay their five or ten bucks per month to use such services, so many additional video clips and pictures flying around is likely to stress the networks and those using them for business. “The question that is of concern,” says Styers, “is what happens when the adoption of all this stuff – even though it’s running great on your network – multiplies in magnitude so then all at once you have 80 percent of your data users streaming heavily?” Answers include expanding the networks or keeping prices high enough to keep demand in check.

Challenges aside, Styers believes the new wave of wireless data that starts with something like watching the Olympics on your phone will help the enterprise market see “a lot of very, very creative applications.”
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