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GSMA talks up embedded phones

Competition to get the price down

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The GSM Association has launched a competition to encourage smaller and more standard embedded 3G modules - all in the name of getting us to own more telephones.

Now that everyone has a mobile phone the GSMA is increasingly focused on getting us to own several, but with punters remarkably unwilling to carry more than one handset the idea is to embed mobile telephony into gadgets and devices: bringing connectivity where none was previously available, or wanted, or (in many cases) needed.

The competition is open to anyone who can manufacture an embedded 3G GSM module, with optional 2G compatibility and (ideally) a PCI interface: entries to be received by the first of October (details in pdf). The GSMA isn't offering much in the way of prizes, beyond introductions to member companies - though the value of that shouldn't be underrated - and lots of exposure including at the conference formally known as 3GSM* in Barcelona next February.

The idea of all this is to get some economy of scale to encourage the push into cars, health-tracking gadgets, and meters monitoring our use of electricity and gas; as well as embedded in our TVs and videos. Everywhere you might conceivably consider putting Wi-Fi is ripe for an embedded mobile phone, according to the GSMA, which is why everyone will be wanting a femtocell to carry all that traffic.

There is precedent here - many cars, and satellite navigation systems, already embed a mobile telephone to download updated information and report accidents. Amazon's Kindle e-book reader packs a 3G CDMA connection (which is why we won't see it outside the USA for a while). Most Kindle users never see it, but the connection on Sprint's network is used to download magazine subscriptions and books automatically. So a gadget-interested American with a modern car could well already have three mobile phones with them - why not a few more?

Network operators are desperate to find more revenue, and the always-on-but-never-busy nature of embedded devices suits the mobile networks perfectly, if they can get the price down to something sensible - they're unlikely to get down to the $5 cost of a Wi-Fi chip, but the possibility of revenue generation makes such a low price unnecessary. ®

*Mobile World Congress - but even the GSMA can't bring itself to use that name in the competition documents, simply referring to the event as "Barcelona".

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