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Cellphones Illustrate Convergence At CTIA

4/05/2006 08:51:00 AM Eastern

Las Vegas — The cellular industry is encroaching further on consumer electronics industry turf.

Vendors here at the CTIA Wireless convention are expanding the selection of cellphones that do double duty as handheld GPS-navigation systems, MP3 players, handheld TVs, e-mail devices and digital cameras.

Vendors are also making some home technologies mobile by giving consumers the ability to make VoIP from cellphones and watch their local TV channels on a cellular handset while away on business or on vacation.

Highlights here at the show include:

  • the U.S. market’s first 4-megapixel camera phone, available from VK Mobile;

  • the first two handsets from MVNO Helio, which also announced a MySpace.com partnership to transfer MySpace’s online social networking experience from the PC to the phone;

  • hosted GPS-navigation services that let phones display moving and pivoting maps similar to the displays on installed car navigation systems;

  • Blackberry e-mail service available on phones other than those offered by Research In Motion — at least one Samsung-brand phone and one Nokia-brand phone feature Blackberry Connect e-mail service;

  • Mapquest’s entry into the cellphone-based navigation market with a Mapquest-branded service hosted by Telmap; and

  • the proliferation of phones with memory-card slots to store digital images and music. Almost three-quarters of new phones sold worldwide in 2010 will likely include a memory-card slot, Strategy Analytics forecasts. The capacities of embedded memory are also growing.

Infrastructure and handset vendors are also demonstrating the competing MediaFLO and DVB-H video broadcasting technologies and the latest high-speed data technologies, such as WiMAX and W-CDMA’s high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA). All promise to turn cellphones into handheld digital TVs.

In a development that could change the way cellphones are sold, BitWave is demonstrating software-defined radio (SDR) technology, which would enable a single handset to operate in multiple frequency bands and air interfaces

Here’s a look at what’s going on with handsets during the show:

New handset suppliers such as VK Mobile and Pantech are joining the dominant players in offering multimedia handsets that double as portable entertainment centers. Attendees are finding new models from the following suppliers:

Helio: The MVNO, an EarthLink-SK Telecom joint venture, unveiled the first two handsets that will accompany its launch, still set for spring. The Pantech- and VK Mobile-made phones are exclusive to Helio.

Both phones, dubbed “personal entertainment centers,” are 800/1,900MHz CDMA 1x EV-DO phones, indicating a launch over Verizon’s EV-DO network, although Helio has contracted with both Sprint and Verizon to resell airtime.

Both phones feature 2-megapixel camera/video camera, 70MB embedded memory, TransFlash memory-card slot, MP3 playback, MPEG-4/H.264 video playback, stereo speakers and QVGA 2-inch by 2-inch 3:4 262K color LCD display.

The Pantech-supplied Hero is a black slider weighing 4.73 ounces and delivering up to three hours of talktime or up to eight days of standby. The VK Mobile-made Kickflip, available in white pearl finish, swivels open to the right or left with the flick of a finger. The 4.47-ounce Kickflip phone delivers up to 3.3 hours of talktime or up to eight days of standby time.

Planned distribution channels include a mix of Helio-owned stores, traditional cellular distribution and untraditional venues shopped by its target 18- to 32-year-old customers. The three target customer segments are young affluent trendsetters who want to get things first and will wait in line for them, people who are largely still in school and have “heavy entertainment and communications needs,” and fashion-conscious urban dwellers that see their phones as an expression of their selves.

At launch, consumers will be able to use the phones to access MySpace Mobile, optimized for handsets’ small screens and delivering MySpace.com’s PC-based experience. Users will be able to view profiles of MySpace participants, view their photos, read and write blogs on the go, send messages to profiled users, read and write MySpace mail and post photos to MySpace directly from the phone.

Samsung: Slider designs, quadband capability, Bluetooth and MP3 players are turning up in many new Samsung handsets. Most of which were previewed at January’s International CES.

The company’s first U.S. phone to hand off voice calls from the wireless network to a home Wi-Fi network is the t709, an 850/1800/1900MHz GSM/EDGE phone with slider design; built-in Wi-Fi; MP3 player; 1.3-megapixel camera; and instant messaging from AOL, Yahoo and ICQ. It was expected to be available by now.

Three of four other new GSM phones are also quadband models, including the slider d807. This quadband phone features MP3 player, 1.3-megapixel camera, microSD (Trans Flash) slot for memory cards up to 512MB, and Bluetooth. The 3.2-ounce t609, a quadband GSM/EDGE clamshell, features dual LCDs, Bluetooth, MP3 player, video player, 1.3-megzpixel camera, 32MB embedded memory, microSD slot, and FOTA over-the-air software upgrades. The d347 quadband GSM clamshell features push-to-talk capability, Bluetooth, FOTA over-air software that can be upgraded, VGA camera, 30MB of internal memory and voice recognition.

The triband GSM/EDGE t719, a 3.52-ounce folding model with QWERTY-like SureType keyboard, is the company’s first phone with RIM Blackberry e-mail support and the industry’s first clamshell model with Blackberry Connect e-mail. Other features include 1.3-megapixel camera; Bluetooth; MP3 player; voice recognition; main 2.2-inch 262K color TFT screen; and AOL, Yahoo and ICQ instant messaging. It is 3.7 inches by 2 inches by 0.72 inches with standard battery.

Other new phones include four trimode CDMA 1X models, including the a580 trimode clamshell designed for first-time users. It features WAP 2.0 browser, dual LCD screens and speakerphone. The basic a250 trimode 1X clamshell features dual color screens and picture caller ID. The a350 trimode 1X clamshell adds VGA camera, digital zoom, and Bluetooth. The a550 trimode CDMA 1x clamshell adds AAC and AAC+ music playback, ringtones assignable to different phone numbers and text-to-speech conversion.

Four CDMA 1X EV-DO phones reappearing here after a CES debut are the a930, a870, a780 and a640, all with MP3 player and Bluetooth. The a930 and a870 also support music-on-demand over-the-air music downloading. All but the a640 feature microSD slot. All come with camera, with the a780 and a930 featuring 1.3 megapixels and the a870 featuring 2 megapixels.

W-CDMA phones that debuted at CES include what the company expects to be the first HSDPA model available to U.S. consumers. It’s due in June for Cingular, which already offers a Samsung W-CDMA handset without HSDPA.

When an HSDPA network is fully evolved, it offers maximum theoretical downloads at data rates up to 14.4MBps compared to a W-CDMA network’s 1Mbps. Uplink speeds are also accelerated. As of early 2006, however, Cingular’s HSDPA network delivered theoretical 3.6Mbps maximum downlinks with average throughputs per user of 400Kbps to 700kbps with 1MB bursts, but the carrier’s existing handsets were limited to 1.8Mbps theoretical maximum downloads, the carrier said. Average uplink speeds per user were 60Kbps to 80kbps.

Samsung’s HSDPA phone is the quadband clamshell ZX20. It’s due in June with 1.3-megapixel camera, flash, MP3/AAC player, MPEG-4 video recording, microSD [Trans Flash] slot, music- and video-on-demand streaming and download capabilities, 262K color screen, and IM client for AOL, ICQ, Yahoo and MSN. It operates in W-CDMA/HSDPA mode in the 850 and 1,900MHz bands and in GSM/GPRS/EDGE mode in those bands and in the foreign 900 and 1,800MHz bands.

Samsung’s first U.S. W-CDMA phone is the 3.7-ounce zx10, a quadband launched in March by Cingular at $99 after $50 rebate. It lacked HSDPA, but a running change was planned to add HSDPA and Bluetooth.

VK Mobile: The Korean manufacturer, through distributor InfoSonics, unveiled its second wave of phones for North American and Latin American markets, all featuring GSM quadband worldphone capability, MP3 players, TransFlash memory slots and cameras. One model features a 4-megapixel camera. Two come with 1.3-megapixel camera, and three feature VGA camera. Three feature Bluetooth. The 4-megapixel model is the slim VK2200 bar phone with MP3 player, MPEG-4 video playback, Java and USB 1.1 port.

The VK5000 is the company’s first EDGE-equipped phone. InfoSonics has an exclusive distribution agreement with VK Mobile through April 2007 for sales and marketing in Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. It also distributes other-brand phones, which it programs and packages for sale to tier 2-4 carriers.

Wherify: The company plans May or June availability to consumers of its long-delayed Wherifone GPS Locator phone at a price lower than the originally announced $150.

It’s positioned as a safety and security tool for use by young teens and the elderly. It’s also targeted to businesses that want to quickly find their employees and vehicles

For preteens and the elderly, the triband GSM phone features only five buttons, each programmed to make voice calls to five preprogrammed numbers, including 911. The device also receives calls through its assigned phone number. For businesses, it offers the ability to manage calling costs.

The phone incorporates proprietary enhanced-GPS technology designed for use with Wherify’s back-end server. Consumers will track the whereabouts of the person carrying the phone by accessing Wherify’s monitoring service through a Web browser or by a voice call.

Users can be tracked to within a foot in outdoor locations and to within three to 90 feet in indoor locations in “lightly obstructed areas,” such as wood-frame buildings and under dense foliage. It will feature continuous tracking at one-second intervals. A store-and-forward feature lets a subscriber download the device’s previous locations after the fact.

The company previously announced service plans starting at $14.95/month, including a certain number of locate requests and voice minutes. An update wasn’t available at press time.

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