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GSM Association launches new standard for next-gen mobiles

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The GSM association has launched a new mobile phone standard today, called M-Services, for next-generation phones that will enable graphics and games etc. to be downloaded.

The standard, supported by just about every major manufacturer and operator, will (it hopes) make up for the WAP debacle, boost take-up and sales of next-generation mobiles and prevent i-Mode from taking over in Europe. Phones with the standard should be available in time for Christmas.

The London press conference saw the great and good in the mobile industry gathered in one room and was a fairly lively event for a change. Fortunately, those up on stage resisted the urge to rewrite history and accepted that WAP has been a disaster.*

The current thinking is that WAP didn't take off because there were/are so many different standards/infrastructures/handsets. This meant developers never took it to their breast, which meant no consumers wanted to use it. By extension, i-Mode's enormous success is down to the fact that it worked to one standard.

This is all changed now though with the fantastic M-Services. The chairman and the CEO of GSMA (American jargon-masters), the MD of Telecom Italia (an ebullient Italian) and the CEO of Openwave (media hungry) were all extremely keen to point out M-Services is not, repeat not, proprietary. It's a standard freely available and no one is under any obligation to sign up to it. Check out the GSMA's Web site for more info.

It represents simply a clean-up of the standard for data-compliant phones and will mean the widespread adoption of new services so companies can compete on services rather than standards or infrastructures.

Don't buy a GPRS phone!
A huge number of mobile companies have signed up to the standard including BT, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Siemens, Alcatel, Telefonica etc etc so it looks as though this is the real deal.

However that means if you have just bought a GPRS phone, you've wasted your money. If all goes according to plan, phones with the M-Services standard will take off at Christmas and the numbers and commonality of them will cause developers to start making the phones worthwhile by creating new services to ride on top.

One element that has been overlooked though (and was repeatedly not answered during questions) was developer freedom. A lot of i-Mode's success was built on developers being able to produce, market and ship a product off their own bat. So far, it looks as though M-Services developers will need to talk to individual operators to get their product up and running.

A suggestion that the GSMA has effectively set up a cartel with software manufacturer Openwave was given short shrift. "I find it offensive and inexcusable to use that word," said Rob Conway, GSMA's CEO. "Nothing we have said or done with the standard has anything that looks like a cartel."

Asked whether this was really news - wasn't it inevitable that the GSMA would create a new standard for next-generation phones, especially considering the success of GSM itself? - we were informed No. There are 165 different kinds of WAP. This will allow for just one.

"This has started to resume the movement that made GSM a standard in the first place," said Telecom Italia MD Mauro Scutinelli.

The GSMA chairman also said he saw this new standard as just one in a series of future standards that will enable mobile companies to work on a common platform - to the benefit of both companies and consumers.

We feel that such a move was indeed inevitable. But all the same, it's good to see that it's actually been done. Perhaps we will soon, finally get these amazing phones that everyone's been telling us about for a couple of years. ®

* Of course though, when we were told M-Services will build on the success of SMS (by three to eight times, apparently), there was no recognition that the mobile industry had dismissed SMS as nothing interesting before it took off and made them all a rack of money.

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