3GSM Roundup

by Brian McConnell

Last week I set off to Barcelona for 3GSM. It is a huge event, with over 40,000 attendees and some 1,000 exhibitors. Despite its size, there was a notable lack of real breakthrough technologies (and almost no mention of VoIP, as it is a four letter word for most telcos). Lots of incremental improvements and new product releases, but nothing disruptive.

I did find a few really interesting companies, some of which I'll write about in more detail soon. Among the more interesting things I saw at this year's expo:

Best Handsets

Sony Walkman (W810, or W900)

This is the best music phone I have seen to date. It is a very well designed cellphone, works on a variety of networks and supports 3G data speeds (W900). One of the things I liked most is that they did a lot of design work on the user interface, which sports some really nice iconography. Most cellphones usually have a hideous UI hiding inside a nice shell. Sony got this one right. Prediction for 2006... I wouldn't be surprised if the Walkman brand makes a comeback. The only major flaw, the phone requires a proprietary headset and does not support Bluetooth stereo.

Samsung (Multiple Models)

I was quite impressed with Samsung's handsets. No single device stood out, but overall they have done a lot of work to support the latest high-speed data, camera and mobile video technologies, and have produced some nicely designed phones. They did an especially good job incorporating new mobile video systems, such as DVB-H and MediaFLO, into their handsets. Samsung has devices for virtually every combination of cellular network and feature set, not a small feat considering the variety of technologies being rolled out. Watch for an article especially about Samsung's newest devices later this week.

Best Headset

Motorola Mini Blue

Motorola's Mini Blue is a Bluetooth earpiece. It reminds me a lot of the Jabra earpiece, first released about 10 years ago, except sans cords. It is tiny, has no boom mic, and looks like something out of a sci-fi flick. The mini-blue is due out in a few months. I expect this will be a big seller.

Best Access Technology

4G Systems - XSCard C3

4G Systems has made a PC card that supports multiple high-speed mobile networks, including HSPDA, UMTS, EDGE and basic GPRS. This enables mobile users to access data networks at speeds ranging from basic GPRS speeds (~50-150kbps) to megabit speeds. Overall, a great solution for mobilizing laptop and tablet computers.

Best Crossover Technology

Snell & Wilcox

Snell & Wilcox demoed a very impressed mobile video compression suite. S&W has years of experience providing video compression technology to broadcasters. They are applying this expertise to create smart video compression tools that maximize video quality, even on slow 64-128kbps wireless links.

They were not demoing yet another compression format, but rather what they do is a lot of pre-processing and optimization with existing formats. A good analogy to use are DVDs. Although they all use the MPEG2 format, you can tell the difference between a DVD producer who used a high-end compression shop versus one who used an off-the-shelf tool. S&W are experts in optimizing the compression process, and are applying this to mobile video.

They will be offering a suite of tools to mobile content producers and broadcasters that will enable them to increase the quality of their feeds.