How long until the mobile is the heart of entertainment?

It'll be sooner than you think...


Comment When we first began thinking of the mobile phone as "our identity" it became obvious overnight that it was the most personal and handy portal for all entertainment services. But how long will it take until that eventuality comes about.

It's not hard to see that the mobile phone, modeled as it is more and more on the Star Trek communicator from our childhood TV shows, will take on more and more significance in our lives, acting as the ultimate personal collection of thoughts, memories, schedules, diary, preferences and an indication of just where we are on the planet.

We sometimes think that neither the cellcos, nor the handset makers get this and in the same way can't seem to interest pay TV suppliers that aren't also cellcos in the concept. Perhaps it's just that they have their minds on other things right now and they will be responsive when all the elements are in place.

But there are a handful of companies quietly working towards the day when the handset becomes synonymous with a global personalised entertainment portal, for instance chip companies like Texas Instruments which anticipates these needs it is chip designs, and some of the mobile TV software companies such as Expway and MobiTV, who want to own that portal.

Recent conversations with companies like Siemens and Thomson, both in the end to end mobile TV business, have revealed that they have a similar vision, but agree there are many steps to be taken before it becomes a reality. We'd expect Nokia, Samsung and Motorola to have elements of this on their roadmap, especially Motorola with a foot in both handset and digital home camps.

One enabler, not essential, but preferable, is that the handset needs ubiquitous internet access, and a tearing down of the walled garden that dictates that cellcos decide what the customer can and cannot have on his handset. Because if you are going to send entitlement messages, control messages, actual content, EPG data and interactivity messages to and from the handset, then access to that channel had better be open.

There are multiple ways this could happen, a universal carrier such as next generation BlueTooth or Wireless USB, can talk short range to devices in the home or at work and it might hijack wired or Wi-Fi carried broadband access from there. Or the cellular signal can be the carrier of all this information, as long as flat rate broadband access is sold.

If handsets extend our personal identities and preferences they will be used to collect content for us automatically, manage our presence settings on any device, collect together various forms of messages, audio, video and text, from multiple devices, act as a channel changer for our TV when we are in the home, and act as a command module for our DVR both in home and outside it.

The handset will be used to store huge amounts of data. Today people use their PCs as if they had limitless storage because 40GB or 100GB of data feels pretty unlimited. Miniature hard drives are set to take on phone storage capacity to 20GB to 24GB on a single drive, and real estate on the handset is shrinking so fast (we know it's an incredible amount of effort, but it is happening) that multiple drives will soon be on the handset.

This data storage could be matched by Flash memory which uses less power and weighs less, getting into the same physical space in around three years and the same cost by around 2013. This makes it a virtually unlimited carrying case for content.

You will be able to set preferences on your home DVR or your PC that download or record a particular TV series in SD or even in HD, and either download it to the handset in QVGA, or SD or HD, for viewing either on the handset, or any nearby screen, with the upload coming over the same short range carriers that will underpin the download.

In order to make that a reasonably short time to copy, then copying speeds in the order of 1 Gbps will be needed, giving an hour of SD program a copying speed of around eight seconds. That's achievable with either the new 60MHz standard from the WirelessHD special interest group, or any one of the UltraWideBand carrier types, and these could be licensed and available in two to three years.

We're not sure that this is even needed to make the handset as a control point a reality. There are other technologies, for instance the Wi-Bree that Nokia is working on, which will carry short range messages, as might existing Bluetooth 2.0.

But if we are to look outside of the handset, not only do we need to write software that can recognise anything ON the handset that is video, image, or audio and offer to display it for use, we also need to do the same for nearby devices. Now that will take some coordination and the answer is in standards here.

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