IT firms could see the forthcoming third generation mobile telecomms network as a stepping stone into the multibillion dollar IT-telecomms convergence market.
EC members are due to award licences to operate the third generation multimedia network - called Universal Mobile Telecommunications Services (UMTS) - by 2000. In the UK licences could be auctioned as early as this autumn.
IT firms could be among interested candidates, noted Wolfgan Groenen, the newly appointed chairman of the UMTS Forum's group of manufacturer. The Forum is working with the EC to spearhead the multimedia network.
?I would not be surprised if IT companies were interested in bidding for licences. The IT industry is convinced the future is the merger of telecomms, content and broadcast,? he said.>
The first tranche of UMTS will be available in 2002 and will enable users to send and receive text, graphics, video images and make voice calls from mobile devices. It will ultimately offer bandwidth of 2Gbps and shave the time it takes to send graphics files from minutes using ISDN, to seconds.
UMTS could be of interest to a number of IT suppliers, notably Microsoft, which has often spoken about its broadcast ambitions, and was recently rumoured to be mounting a takeover offer for BT. Other interested parties could be Internet and networking companies.
However, UMTS? success hinges on the types of services that will be made available. Device manufacturers believe users would want to run full-blown multimedia services on their mobile terminals, but current mobile network operators prefer to take a softly softly approach.
In the UK, Cellnet is considered as the only innovative operator which has taken mobile communications one step further than voice. It has an Internet-based service that pushes personal reminders and Web information as text messages to phones, and is working with Barclaycard to enable users to settle bills over the phone.
Ben Timmons, director of strategy and marketing at Cable & Wireless Mobile, which provides marketing assistance to the group?s global mobile companies, believes one of the major hurdles will be to get people to understand that mobile handsets could be used for more than voice communications.
This could also mean re-educating the mobile operators themselves. ?Operators don?t tend to be creative or imaginative,? he admitted.
However, the appearance of banking services over mobile phones could be used as a stepping stone to more advanced services from operators.
But if mobile operators are slow to react, it may prove that those who are used to providing data and graphics to mobile workers, such as IT vendors, could replace them as network suppliers.
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