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Venture capitalists mob Cannes bandwagons

Over-the-air and games provoke excitement

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3GSM Nothing flags a bandwagon more than a mob of venture capitalists trying to climb aboard. Cannes has them in hordes for the 3GSM Congress this year. Games - that's definitely a bandwagon. Over-the-Air is another. Camera technology is spreading. Here's a little sampler:

Infra-Worlds, a French games specialist, believes that peer-to-peer gaming is going to be the magic that generates air traffic. Following the pioneering example of N-Gage, perhaps? Why not? But Infra-Worlds sees this as an opportunity to sell a Java-based platform. So it is offering the platform, not the game; and as an afterthought, maybe, it is also offering a 3D rendering engine.

Recently, I predicted that there was a need for Internet switching ability in a mobile phone. Sofinnova Ventures is just one VC that's getting excited about this idea and is pushing Hellosoft as a major potential player in this market. HelloSoft allows phone makers (and other "embedded" pda, etc. makers) to buy an IP stack off the shelf. Set-top boxes are another promising area, they say.

Beamreach recently joined the WiMAX forum, anticipating the move of "mobile" into broadband speeds. Like Flarion, it claims a portfolio of patents in the OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) technology world which its backers think will let it be a gatekeeper to mobile broadband. "The key technology is in the way that the company has integrated OFDM for non-line-of-sight transmission, with what it calls Frequency Spacial Diversity, that improves signal propagation," the VC told me here in Cannes. "There are some multi-million dollar contracts about to be announced."

Revenue streams are a component all too often missing from mobile data startups: VoluBill may have a future in repairing this breach. It's a company which claims to "know how to charge for mobile services". The products anticipate a day when content-rich data services will become the major differentiator between operators. "Integrated charging, on-the-fly access to services, and a seamless delivery of content are the basics that must be in place to enhance the user's experience," said the VC.

The one that really caught my eye, though, was Varioptic, which has found a way to focus very, very small lenses. Not, perhaps (yet!) in the human eye, but in the mobile phone camera. The technology is a liquid lens, which uses electro-wetting. A water drop is set onto a substrate made of metal, covered by a thin insulating layer. The focus is entirely electronic. The lens is only 8mm in diameter, 2mm in thickness. "Not just in phones," said the VC selling this. "It also will mean digital cameras in toy cars, business cards, boats, you name it. No moving parts, you see?"

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