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The trend for operators to use branded content services to differentiate themselves is gathering speed. These offerings are also an important way for cellcos to enhance their own brands at the expense of those of the handset makers, in order to strengthen their position in that uneasy balance of power.

Vodafone has been the leader of the pack with the heavily branded Live! and with many efforts to sideline Nokia - which the operators regard as over dominant and dictatorial in its approach to handset design - by turning to less powerful phone-makers such as Sharp.

Other operators are taking a similar course. T-Mobile has also signed up Sharp to make exclusive, high end phones to the cellco's own design and brand. For a second tier device maker like Sharp, this is a good business to be in, gaining top range operator deals despite the expense to its own branding.

Like Sharp's work with Vodafone, the joint project with T-Mobile will focus on the multimedia services and on enhancing the user experience for the German operator's T-Zones offering. The first product, the TM100 cameraphone, will go on sale in April featuring single-touch access to T-Zones downloads, integrated video player and an email client.

T-Mobile is increasingly seeking to build a reputation for offering a wide range of innovative devices and was an early adopter in Europe of the RIM BlackBerry and Danger Hiptop. As important as the design of the devices is the brand of the content on offer.

TeliaSonera of Finland has scored a significant coup in this area, being the first operator in Europe to offer a new streaming music service for phones from Sony. Sony will offer its streaming service as an alternative to RealNetworks' offering, which is included in Vodafone Live! and other multi-media products and is expected to sign deals with many European cellcos.

© Copyright 2004 Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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