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Fun And Games Focus At Wireless 2003

New Orleans – While the nation prepared for war, the wireless industry talked about fun and games at Wireless 2003, where the focus was on turning phones into cameras, MP3 players and game machines.

Carriers are intent on delivering entertainment-oriented handsets and services that will boost revenues at a time when the number of net-new subscribers is declining, while handset suppliers are working to deliver phones that will spur replacement sales in a mature market.

Also at the show, suppliers expanded the industry’s selection of PDA-phones with new models based on the Symbian, Linux, Palm and PocketPC operating systems. And paging carriers unveiled a broad selection of the first ReFlex-based two-way pagers that will replace models made by Motorola, which left the paging market more than a year ago. One is a ReFlex-equipped Linux-based PDA, and one is a Palm PDA with ReFlex. Although ReFlex carriers are focused on the enterprise, WebLink Wireless said it will also target retail distribution more aggressively.

In other developments:

  •  Sprint PCS outlined plans to expand its selection of camera phones and PDA-phones in the coming months. It also plans a late-year launch of push-to-talk service, and it announced a second-quarter launch of two other services: multiplayer gaming over its CDMA 1X network and, via a new Sanyo camera-phone, the ability to attach a 10-second voice message to a picture message.
  • Verizon Wireless announced late-summer commercial trials in San Diego and Washington of high-speed 1X EV-DO service, which could easily deliver data at rates of 300Kbps-400Kbps in moving vehicles, the carrier said. Stationary rates could peak at more than 1.1Mbps.Verizon is targeting the enterprise market, but handsets equipped with EV-DO could theoretically be used for such services as streaming and downloading full-motion video, downloading more robust games, or snapping and sending megapixel pictures.

Verizon also announced plans to enter the 802.11b hot spot market in the third quarter, when it will resell Wayport’s hot spot services. The carrier also unveiled plans to offer new PDA-phones in April and said it hopes to offer push-to-talk service by the end of the year.

  •  AT&T Wireless reiterated plans for a second-half launch of high-speed EDGE service, which could deliver similar services at average rates of about 192Kbps. AT&T didn’t offer additional details about its timeline. The carrier also said it plans limited year-end trials of push-to-talk service.
  •  The EDGE Operators Forum, a coalition of carriers and vendors, said U.S. GSM/GPRS carriers AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile would launch EDGE commercially in the second half, but it did not outline deployment plans in detail. The forum also claimed that beginning in early 2004, EDGE would be standard in all GSM/GPRS phones.

In handset developments:

  •  Kyocera and Audiovox unveiled entry-level color-screen phones that could be retailed for as little as $49 without special carrier promotions;
  •  Samsung showed what could be the first color-screen phone with 260K color screen, up from the typical 65K;
  •  Two companies – Kyocera and Siemens – launched their first ‘slider’ models, which feature panels that slide open to reveal the dialing keypad.
  •  In returning to the U.S. handset market, NEC joined Sanyo in offering a camera-phone that sends picture messages accompanied by a voice message of about 10 seconds. Audiovox said it plans a fourth-quarter launch of a camera-phone with similar capabilities, plus the ability to capture and send short video clips.
  •  Next year, said Samsung vice president Pete Skarzynski, megapixel resolution will be standard in camera phones.

Here’s what some handset suppliers launched:

Audiovox: Four new CDMA 1X phones include two clamshell models with embedded camera. One, the high-tier ZX-900, is due in May or June to Verizon with BREW and MMS. The other camera phone, the mid-tier CDM-8900, is due in August or September with BREW or Java capability. Both feature 65K color screen and GPS.

The CDM-8400 entry-level color-screen phone with BREW will ship in the third quarter and could be retailed for $49 without aggressive carrier promotions.

The fourth 1X phone, the CDM-8600, is due in the second quarter with BREW, SMS, GPS, 65K color screen, but no camera.

In the fourth quarter, the company plans a high-end 1X camera phone that takes video clips and lets users send short audio messages with a picture message.

The company also previewed two 900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS phones that it could offer late this year or early next. One is a camera phone that also records video clips.

Also new: a CDMA 1X PC Card, which lacks voice capability and will retail for about $200 through Verizon. A competing 1X PC Card with voice capability retails for about $260, Audiovox said.

Kyocera: The company staged its largest product introduction since entering the U.S. market three years ago with nine new CDMA 1X phones to fill in its mid- and high-tier selection. The phones include the Wildseed-designed color-screen Kurv phone, which uses chip-embedded themed faceplates that users swap to change the phone’s cosmetics, screensavers, ring tones, games, stored Web links and stored video clips. The BREW- and MMS-equipped trimode will include built-in camera, MP3 player and FM radio. It will ship in the early fourth quarter at an estimated retail of around $199 with at least 15 faceplate options priced from $25-$40. It will be Kyocera’s first camera phone. Other new phones include three modular phones that carriers can custom-order with color or grayscale displays or with single-, dual- or tri-mode radios. Two models also feature user-changeable cosmetic touches.

Siemens: The company filled out its GSM portfolio with three mid- to high-tier GSM phones, including its first Symbian-based PDA-phone, the SX1, which complements its PocketPC-based phone. The SX1 features built-in camera and camcorder to take still images and shoot video clips, RealOne audio/video player and Bluetooth.

A slider-style phone, the SL56, features 4,096-color display, optional camera attachment with flash, Java, MMS, jewel-like keypad and ruby- or titanium-color case.

The M56 features side lights that can be programmed to blink in a customized pattern. Other features include 4,096-color display, MMS, Java and custom-composed ring tones.

Nokia: The company expanded its CDMA 1X selection and unveiled its latest entertainment-oriented phone, the GSM/GPRS 3300, which features MP3/AAC music player, FM radio, QWERTY keyboard for messaging, 64MB MMC card, Java and color screen at an expected $200-$300. It’s expected to ship in the fall and complement the gamer-oriented N-Gage, a GSM/GPRS game deck/phone due in the fourth quarter from T-Mobile. It accepts MMC game cartridges and includes color screen, FM and MP3/AAC playback, but no QWERTY keyboard.

The new CDMA phones include the voice-only 2200 series (available in two U.S. versions without 1X data capability). They feature consumer-changeable front and back covers and are expected to ship in the second quarter with prices below $99. The step-up 3586i adds color screen, 1X data capability, and downloadable Java applications. It ships in the second quarter at an expected retail of $125 to $175.

The high-tier 1X 6585, shipping in the fourth quarter, is fashion-oriented with silver finish, FM radio, and expected price of $199 and up.

The company also disclosed new details of its 3650 Symbian-based PDA/camera-phone. Nokia said it is already shipping the GSM/GPRS 900/1800/1900MHz model to Cingular and that an 850/1900MHz version, the 3600, will be available in the second half to another carrier. The expected retail is less than $400 for both versions.

Motorola: Motorola’s first GSM/EDGE phone, the 725, will download data, text, and images at speeds up to approximately 170kbps in a moving vehicle. It’s due in the fourth quarter with TFT 65K color screen.

Two new CDMA 1X phones, due in the fall, include the company’s first CDMA phone with integrated camera, joining two GSM phones with integrated camera. The V819 camera phone includes flash, 260K color screen, MMS and BREW.

The second CDMA model is the E310, which a clamshell with color screen, light strips on the side, and force feedback for game playing. Pricing will be in the mid-to-low range, the company said

The company also said it plans a variety of CDMA and GSM models with push-to-talk capability sometime in 2003.

NEC: Second-quarter shipments of the 515 GSM/GPRS phone are planned, but the carrier customer wasn’t announced. The high-tier quad-band device operates on U.S. 850/1900MGHz bands and foreign 900/1800MHz bands. Features include 2.2-inch 65K color TFT screen, MMS, WAP 2.0 browser and two game-oriented features (force feedback and ability to press two keys simultaneously so gamers can move and shoot simultaneously).

Samsung: The company launched its second Palm-based CDMA 1X phone, its first PocketPC-based 1X phone and its first PDA-less CDMA 1X phone with built-in camera.

The company’s unusual-looking Matrix-themed phone, which will appear in the Matrix-movie sequel, also debuted.

The i700 PocketPC phone, due in the second quarter to Sprint and to Verizon in April, features built-in camera and touch-screen dialing keypad at an expected $600-$700.

The company’s second 1X Palm-based phone, the i500, is its first Palm-based flip phone. It’s smaller than the non-flip model and features a smaller screen, for users desiring a more phonelike form factor, the company said. It ships in the second quarter to Sprint at an expected retail of about $600.

The CDMA 1X camera phone, the a600, will retail through Sprint for about $300 in the second quarter. It will join the company’s first camera phone, the GSM-network V205. Features include 4x zoom, flash, flash timer, VGA picture quality and 260K color screen.

The Matrix phone is a limited-edition CDMA 1X voice-only model designed in collaboration with Warner Brothers to feature the Matrix movie logo and movie scenes in slide-show format. The phone, which will appear in the movie and in a Matrix console game, will be available through Sprint in May to coincide with the launch of the Matrix movie sequel. The launch will include contests, in-theater promotion, and availability through select retailers and online retailers.