Making mobile broadband work for customers, whether Wi-Fi or 3G, and building services to offer over fixed-line broadband, were the key topics at ITU Telecom World in Geneva earlier this month.
Companies used the event, which takes place every four years, to promote new partnerships and discuss tomorrow's killer applications.
With innovation rife, and confidence returning to the market, it was clear that turning smart technology into profitable services still splits the sector.
Intel was keen to discuss the potential of wireless technology, Wi-Max. Pitched as an alternative to DSL, it offers speeds of 70Mbps over 70km.
Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's communications group, maintained that Wi-Fi and Wi-Max would be the technologies that "connected the next five billion people to the internet".
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said that Wi-Fi was "becoming a common sense tool to drive business productivity" and believed that services over broadband "would surprise us all" by the next Telecom World.
He further predicted that every operator would offer IP-based video by the end of the decade.
But his big announcement was Microsoft's alliance with Vodafone to establish a mobile web services standard to bring mobile and PC applications together.
The work could result in changes to the way all software is paid for, according to Gartner analyst Nigel Deighton.
"Mobile operators are strong in micro-payments, authentication and roaming," he said. "It is not that great a leap to see Microsoft using this technology to charge for software on a per-usage basis."
Microsoft also announced a new smartphone partner in Sierra Wireless, which will launch its Voq phone next summer.
Voq boasts an innovative fold out Qwerty thumb board, USB synching and an SD slot for additional memory. But Sierra said that Bluetooth is "not yet popular enough" to be part of its feature set.
Other smartphones were thin on the ground. Nokia, Alcatel and Ericsson were all notable by their absence, although new models are expected next month.
For 3G, experts at the event admitted that there was still no single killer application, but vendors were keen to highlight the range of applications and services they were developing.
Mapping systems, video-calling software, video clips, video conferencing and online information services, such as lastminute.com running on a mobile, were all on show.
Sol Trujillo, chief executive of Orange, argued: "It isn't about building the killer application, but the killer environment. Eighty per cent of users never use more than 10 per cent of the applications anyway."
Whatever the key application, operators are realising that they have to focus on enterprise customers, according to Steve Brazier, president and chief executive at analyst Canalys.
"They are desperate to prove that they have a role to play in the data space other than providing bandwidth," he explained.
With 3G barely up and running, few wanted to talk about 4G, the next step up for bandwidth and the best chance for a global unified standard.
NTT DoCoMo indicated that research had begun, but did not expect 4G speeds before 2010 at the earliest.
Other key announcements:
- Hewlett Packard unveiled a series of new or improved mobility partnerships with Nokia, Siebel, Telecom Italia, Alacatel, France Telecom and Ericsson. It identified mobile email, messaging, sales force automation and wireless local area networks as big growth areas.
- Cambridge University's Centre for Photonic Systems has developed a way to transmit radio signals over multi-mode fibre, useful in older buildings where thick walls and poor cabling are an issue.
- The University of Wales Swansea demonstrated high speed networking technology with a fibre-optic and laser based Lan which operates at 155Mbps. It can reach speeds of over 600Mbps and could be integrated into the next generation of gigabit Ethernet hardware.
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