By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Wireless-industry marketers might have felt a little disoriented last week when they entered CTIA's Wireless 2005 show, here, and they could not blame it on Bourbon Street excesses.
Wireless 2005 combined the look and feel of International CES, the Photo Marketing Association Show and a National Association of Broadcasters event.
Exhibitors demonstrated wireless streaming audio services, MP3 playback, mobile TV services and broadband-quality Web browsing and downloading. They talked more about megapixels, compressed-audio codecs and video frame rates and less about talktime and memory locations
The faces in the crowds changed as much as the technologies and presentations. New handset suppliers turning up to exhibit for the first time included Amoi, BenQ and Group Sense. New infrastructure supplier Huawei also showed handsets and is weighing an entry into the U.S. market. All hail from China or Taiwan, as do two new Audiovox suppliers: UTStarcom, which recently bought Audiovox, and Hisense. Both are from China, as is Haier, which exhibited for the second time.
New services on display included a streaming stereo-music service from Mobzilla of La Jolla, Calif., and DVB-H (digital video broadcasting-handheld), a technology that optimizes existing TV programming for transmission to handheld devices, including future cellphones. To demonstrate the service, Nokia teamed up with Pittsburgh-based Crown Castle, which is upgrading its national network of communications towers to broadcast DVB-H programs over the nationwide 1,700 MHz spectrum that it owns. . Nokia said it expects to offer DVB-H handsets in late 2005 or early 2006 for sale to carriers.
Other suppliers demonstrated high-speed cellular-data technologies that widen the wireless pipe to deliver ever-richer content through cellular frequencies. Ericsson, Siemens and Samsung, for instance, demonstrated HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), a W-CDMA advancement that accelerates peak download speeds to 14Mbps.
Siemens promised to deliver an HSDPA PC Card in the second half, though it and other first-generation devices will download at speeds only up to 1.8Mbps, with an up-link up to 384Kbps peak. LG Mobile Phones committed to a 2005 launch of an HSDPA device.
In other product developments:
Phones with MP3 players, not just the ability to play MP3 ringtones, proliferated. Sony Ericsson announced plans to launch its first Walkman-brand MP3 phone in the second half in the United States. It's said to be optimized for music playback. Samsung reentered the MP3-phone market after an absence of a few years with at least four models. Motorola failed, however, to announce specific plans for a phone capable of playing Apple's iTunes format. Nonetheless, Motorola showed its third MP3-player phone for the United States and said it plans more later this year.
Nokia committed to offering half of its new 2005 phones with built-in compressed-music players, some of which might also support a new wireless-music-download service developed by OEM download-operator Loudeye. If the Loudeye service is adopted by carriers, consumers could download music directly to their W-CDMA and CDMA 1x EV-DO handsets in the AAC+ format protected by a cellular-industry digital rights management (DRM) standard. The song would also be delivered in protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) format to the user's home PC.
More phones appeared with removable memory for shuttling music and images between phones and other devices. At least one phone, shown by Samsung, turned up with embedded memory up to 100MB to store lost of music and images. An Audiovox model turned up with 128MB embedded memory. Several new Motorola and Samsung products appeared with removable TransFlash. Sony Ericsson unveiled two models with Memory Stick Duo cards and compatibility with higher memory Memory Stick PRO cards.
Samsung and Sony Ericsson announced the first 2-megapixel camera phones for the U.S. market. Sony Ericsson's are due in the second and third quarters, respectively. Samsung's model is due in May.
The only new W-CDMA handsets publicly displayed were intended for Europe's 2.1GHz band.
The first camera phones with spot autofocus appeared. They're from Audiovox and Sony Ericsson.
Although suppliers were enthusiastic about the prospects for camera phones, Kodak chairman Dan Carp warned during a keynote speech that camera phones could become "a lost opportunity for all of us" unless the industry improves ease of use, image quality, and the ease of making a print. "People want prints," he said. Such improvements would turn camera phones "into the primary camera for some people." Kodak will work with phone makers to achieve those goals, he said. One way would be to get camera phone makers to adopt a Kodak-developed connector endorsed by multiple camera makers to let consumers dock their cameras directly to printer docks, which print digital images without a PC connection, VP Nancy Carr told TWICE.
In other developments, the show pointed to increasing competition for consumer dollars later this year and early next with the launch of multiple MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators).
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.