Archive | February, 2008

Cellphones to cost more

29 Feb

Cellphones are expected to become dearer as the Union Finance Minister has proposed an additional excise duty of one percent. Prior to the Union Budget, which was delivered today, cellphones attracted four percent import duty. “An excise duty of 1 per cent called NCCD is now imposed on polyester filament yarn, which is the only yarn suffering this excise duty. I propose to remove that duty and shift the levy to cellular mobile phones,” said P Chidambram, the Union Finance Minister while addressing both the houses of the Parliament.

Microsoft to announce WiMo 6.1 in April?

29 Feb

A sweet li’l birdie sung by our window and told us that Microsoft will be announcing Windows Mobile 6.1 in the first week of April! No major enhancements, apart from cosmetic ones, are expected in the new version. Check out the picture of the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 running on Windows Mobile 6.1 that we spotted at the ongoing Mobile Asia 2008 in New Delhi.

Opera – adding Spice to the mobile Internet revolution

28 Feb

Today seems to be a busy day for the guys at Opera in Oslo, Norway. After tying up with Google to have Google Search as the default search engine for Opera Mini, the company has tied-up with India’s Spice Mobile to embed the mobile browser in the latter’s upcoming range of cellphones. Opera Mini, which works on any Java enabled handset, enables users to browse any website on their cellphone. The browser re-renders web pages automatically to fit a cellphone’s screen and also compresses pages to enable faster page downloads and low data consumption – two major worries consumers have when it comes to surfing the Internet on cellphones.

It is not the first time that Opera has entered into such a tie-up. Late last year, the company had a similar arrangement with Tata Indicom for pre-embedding Opera Mini on Brew-enabled handsets operating on its CDMA network. Motorola had also employed Opera Mini on its Razr2 V8, a handset based on the Linux Mobile platform. Later, Opera entered into another agreement with Motorola for making Opera Mobile – the full browser that enables users to open multiple browser windows – the default Internet browser on the Moto Q9h, a Windows Mobile smartphone.

Ironically, all Windows Mobile devices come with a mobile version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. However, the browser has not found many takers as Microsoft has so far failed to adapt it for the changing Web 2.0 scenario. Opera Software ASA, which started as a research project in 1994 in Telenor, one of Norway’s largest telecom companies, before branching out as Opera Software ASA a year later, saw this as a big opportunity waiting to be tapped. Apart from the deal with Motorola, we are also hearing about the possibility of a similar tie-up with the world’s largest Windows Mobile device manufacturer, which might pre-load the latest Opera Mobile 9.5 on its range of Windows Mobile devices.

In December last year, Opera had also filed an anti-trust complaint with the European Union against Microsoft, which it accused of “abusing its dominant position by tying Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted web standards.” Opera also offers a desktop Internet browser. Many industry pundits saw this move as a strategy that Opera might later extended to cellphones (Nokia’s S60 range of devices, in particular), by citing the Microsoft case as precedence.

However, during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Opera CEO, Jon von Tetzchener, refuted the claim. “Let me first clarify that we didn’t sue Microsoft and have filed an anti-trust complaint. They are not following the open Web standards, which makes it difficult for developers to design sites that work on any browser,” he said.

Tetzchener, who could easily land up in a role of a Viking in a Hollywood flick thanks to his Nordic genes, doesn’t expect the same to be repeated on the mobile front, an industry which is already championing the cause of Open Standards. His calmness can be justified by the mass adoption of his company’s freely available mobile Internet browser that works on virtually any cellphone that can support Java applications.

Ask him the latest figures on the number of users and he fails to recall – the numbers keep increasing by the day. He is busy signing deals with handset brands and OEMs to make his company’s application more readily available to consumers, that is when he isn’t championing the cause of developers and consumers. For the record, the company claims over 35 million users with 1.7 billion page views a month. The browser comes preloaded on over 100 million cellphone units globally shipped so far with 55 new models introduced last year alone. With its latest tie-up spree, these figures can go only one way – up!

LG says Hello Moto?

28 Feb

After the initial denial by LG and virtually all the major handset vendors that they are not in the fray to buy Motorola’s ailing mobile devices unit, rumour mills have again started generating some buzz in the industry. Some insiders would like us to believe that LG is in fact very close to finalising the acquisition of Motorola’s mobile devices biz! If this speculation does come true, the move would propel LG bang in front of Sony Ericsson in terms of global market share and too close to Samsung for the latter’s comfort. Mind you, these are just rumours and not facts backed by evidence. We’ll be keeping a close watch on this one, for sure!

Denied MVNO status, Virgin to sell handsets?

28 Feb

Starting a new business in India, especially in the telecom industry is never easy. Well, everyone knows what it took Vodafone to acquire Hutchison Whampoa’s stake in Hutch Essar and the latest victim is Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group. Here’s the story – Virgin had apparently tied up with Tata Indicom. According to the arrangement, Virgin would buy airtime from Tata and then resell it under their brand. In other words, Virgin would act as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).

So where’s the problem, you ask? Well, there are no set guidelines or provisions for an MVNO operation in India and the press got a whiff of the deal, which it dutifully reported. As with any ‘mega deal’, the Cellular Operators Association of India – the lobbying body of GSM operators – then promptly shot a letter to the Department of Telecom’s Secretary, asking if and when the telecom policy was amended to allow MVNO and if licenses were granted and to whom. Cellpassion is in possession of the copy of the letter.

Apparently Virgin has now dropped the idea to launch its MVNO business and is planning to launch handsets for Tata Indicom. Virgin is speculated to hold a press briefing on March 2 in Mumbai, where it is expected to launch five handsets ranging from Rs 2,500 ($62.5) to Rs 5,000 ($125) in price. Jesus! Now where else can you see an MVNO hopeful ending up selling cellphones?

Mobile Asia kicks off tomorrow in Delhi

28 Feb

New Delhi will once again play host to Mobile Asia – a four-day exposition – where most handset brands and carriers will show off their wares. The event is taking place in Pragati Maidan and entry is free for all. Of course, we will be there to cover the event and for that matter, our coverage has started from today itself. Check out a few pics of unfinished booths that will be choc-a-bloc with handsets, visitors and gorgeous booth babes tomorrow!

MOTOZINE gets more details

27 Feb

Motorola might have refrained from launching any new cellphone at the Mobile World Congress 2008, we have been tipped by a trustworthy source that a product in the Moto ZINE series is just around the corner (CTIA anyone?). The device will have a 3.5 mm audio jack and will also have TV-output capabilities. The source also dropped names like PIXL (pixel?) and ZN5 (the rumoured 5 megapixel phone with Kodak?). Well, one thing is for sure, the curtains will be raised very soon over the ZINE mystery.

Google strikes three, gets aboard Opera Mini

27 Feb

Merely days after shaking hands with Nokia and launching a homescreen search app for S60 third edition phones, Google struck gold again by becoming the default search portal aboard Opera Mini. The web browser that brings mobile Internet to almost any Java enabled cellphone has over 35 million users who browse 1.7 billion pages in a month. With the iPhone, Nokia and Opera Mini on its side, we wonder how Google’s competitors will catch up in the mobile search market, which is being touted as the next frontier for Online Search business.

Nokia releases Location Tagger beta

26 Feb

You can now get the much touted location tagging feature – present in the latest crop of Nokia phones announced at the Mobile World Congress in 2008 – on your existing S60 third edition Nokia phone. Nokia Beta Labs has released a beta version of the application that runs in the background while you are trigger happy snapping pictures. The application will tag the pictures with location coordinates using the phone’s internal GPS (or an external Bluetooth GPS receiver paired with phone). You can then arrange these pictures on a map, using Flickr or similar services. We’re currently using this application and will certainly serve you with an in-depth review soon. Keep logged in!

Mom, I want Mobile TV!

26 Feb

If you want to get a sense of what consumers really want on their cellphones, a stroll through West Delhi’s Gaffar market is the best thing to do (apart from relying on ‘analysts’, who can come up with mysterious figures and stats to further confuse you.). It is no wonder that whenever any honcho of any handset brand pays a visit to India, Gaffar is on his/her itinerary, often under the ‘market visit’ tab. I, too, love the market, especially to see the latest Chinese imports and these days to check the current rate of an unlocked iPhone, which by the way is Rs 21,000 ($525) for the eight gig version. But what it also throws up is an insight to the features that consumers are looking for in their cellphones.

The usual suspects – music, touch screen and phones with dual SIM cards – are always there in abundance. But the latest fad is Mobile TV. Well, don’t be alarmed, it’s not the Nokia variety that requires a technology called DVB-H, or the service provider one, that streams over the data channel. Rather, it is a product of Chinese ingenuity – a phone with a TV signal receiver that picks up signals from cables running overhead. 

Shopkeepers claim that the phone can pick up satellite cable channels if a cable wire is in the vicinity of 10 metres. Even without a cable wire, the antenna on the phone (which resembles the ones found on most primitive FM radio receivers) is capable enough to pick up strain signals of Doordarshan. Of course, the phones have a touchscreen, can accommodate two SIM cards and have a microSD card slot. The price can be anything between Rs 4,500 to Rs 6,500 ($112 to $162) depending on your bargaining skills.

But who would buy a Chinese phone that comes with just six months of warranty, which too comes through the shopkeepers word (often a signature accompanied by the date of purchase on the back of his visiting card) than a printed bill? Well, many. Take the case of Mukesh, who, along with his brother, runs a small cigarette stall in Delhi. He doesn’t mind handing a free mint candy when you buy a cigarette stick, especially if you spend a couple of minutes and discuss cricket with him. His latest acquisition is a Chinese Mobile TV phone that lets him watch the ongoing India’s cricket tour of Australia when it’s his turn to man the stall. 

“I just had to spend Rs 2,000 ($50) for this phone as the shopkeeper exchanged it for my old phone. I can watch the match live on it and it is way better than listening to radio commentary,” says Mukesh. Ask him about Nokia’s N77, the brand’s DVB-H-enabled device, he says it’s too expensive for him. “It has a very small screen and doesn’t even have a touchscreen. I have heard that the signals get scratchy when you move out of Delhi. With this phone, I can watch TV no matter where I go,” he adds.

Well, some might think that picking up signals from overhead cables is equivalent to stealing (think of it as surfing Internet using someone’s open Wi-Fi network) but the reality is till the time technology isn’t made accessible and cheap, you can’t stop people. For instance, the DVB-H pilot in India is restricted to a small radius around New Delhi and comes only on a couple of Nokia devices, which cost upwards of Rs 15,000 ($375). 

I once asked a Nokia spokesperson whether the company intends to bring DVB-H to the mid-end segment, he replied: “Why do you want all features at a lower price. In the case of Mobile TV, don’t just look at the cost of the handset. See the screen quality and other features. I don’t think that Mobile TV will come to mid-end handsets,” he said with a smirk.

This leaves the aspirational lot with no choice but to look at the Chinese variety, which can’t match the quality of an established brand but gives them the chance to fulfil their fantasies. Well, till the biggies don’t look beyond a megapixel camera or FM radio for their mid-end segment portfolio, the Chinese varieties will rule Gaffar.