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Nokia bends to operators

New phones, new voice services, and a lock down OS.

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3GSM Nokia made a number of small concessions to network operators across the board at the phone industry's annual get together today. It also announced two new phone models, although for the first time a "model" in conventional parlance becomes a "range".

For the first time, the phone giant will produce custom models for specific operators, with a new clamshell, the 6102 cited as the first example. China's largest operator, CMC, will get its very own model number, although beyond that, it's simply a custom case color and theme.

Nokia's Symbian-based high-end smart phone platform Series 60 is beginning to look like a broad umbrella indeed, now that it's swallowed the short-lived communicator platform, Series 90. Nokia announced Version 3.0 at 3GSM today, even though devices based on last summer's Version 2.0 are still scarce. Again Nokia promoted operator customization, with different flavors pushed at different kinds of devices. So a standard MP3 player goes into all devices, but media phone OEMs will be able to license a fancier MP3 player.

"Series 60 stretched further than we originally anticipated," Niklaus Savander, Nokia VP for enterprise told us an interview.

The company was clearly chuffed with its new Series 60 3G phone, the 6880, the first Nokia phone to get serious about voice calling. First impressions of the device are that it's conservatively styled - unlike several of its predecessors - is snappy and in the best Nokia tradition, has a fine screen. (262k colours).

But the most controversial aspect of Series 60 v3 has clearly been introduced at the request of nervous operators: certification. Applications without certification won't be able to reach into the address book or use connectivity facilities.

Forum Nokia VP Lee Epting described signing as an "orchestration around how things are written on our platform". However, the scale of these API changes has yet to sink in. Epting said that "50 per cent of APIs are not changing" - but it's the 50 per cent of APIs that are that will cause third party developers a headache.

Signing, after all, doesn't prevent malware from doing its worst - it simply provides an audit trail after the damage has been done, and that's what is supposed to discourage malevolent software pranksters from doing their worst.

In its way, the brewing dispute over code-signing will dictate what future wireless networks look like. Nokia, and the operators, have many good reasons for not wanting these to look like the Internet: where the openness has spawned a toxic wasteland of spam, malware and noise. On this basis, a rational case can be made that every open network will succumb to this tragedy of the commons: computer networks are anything but self-correcting.

But it's going to be hard to maintain the case that "open is good", when Nokia, Symbian and the operators define what open really means.

The most interesting innovation that Nokia touted today has very little to do with 3G, mobile data or 'convergence'. It's audio messaging and your reporter's first impression after a demonstration was: "isn't that a fussy way to do PTT (push to talk)?" But there's more to it than that. It's another subtle voice service, which is what Nokia's good at; and experience has taught us these are far more valuable in the real world than the data gimmicks. Details to follow. ®

3GSM 2005

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