Applications matter

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While carriers’ network upgrade plans have garnered the majority of attention from the wireless industry, there is another equally important area that many wireless companies are now focusing on: the applications.

“Applications are everything,” said Adam Guy, senior analyst of mobile wireless research for The Strategis Group.

Most U.S. carriers have announced plans for some kind of 2.5-generation network upgrade, either a GPRS overlay for a GSM network or a cdma2000 1x upgrade for a CDMA network, and many plan to roll out those upgrades by the end of the year. Applications running on 2.5G networks will, first and foremost, have significantly faster download speeds-realistic rates have been pegged between 20 and 40 kilobytes per second. In addition, the transmissions will be packet-based, allowing more efficient data transfers and better pricing schemes for wireless data uses.

The nation’s carriers are spending a significant amount of time and money on the network upgrades, and they and others are also rushing to create the applications that will take advantage of those networks.

The applications are “incredibly important” to the success of the networks, said Bill Seefeldt, senior director of third-party solutions for Motorola Inc. “The need to have the applications at product launch is essential to that launch.”

Motorola’s thoughts follow that line, and the company has invested a notable amount of resources to nurture the application-developing community. Under Motorola’s MAGNET program, which stands for Motorola Application Global Network, the company opened three development centers across the world in order to draw in and support innovative application creators. The centers, located in Florida, the United Kingdom and Sweden, offer the tools, technologies, devices and consulting services developers need to create 2.5 and 3G applications, Motorola said.

“We can get the developers really first-hand info,” Seefeldt said. “We certainly made a very large commitment to the developers.”

That commitment includes all kinds of wireless toys and fully operational networks of all types for developers to test out their creations. Seefeldt said the center in Florida offers working CDMA, GPRS, iDEN and ReFLEX networks for developers. The other centers offer WAP, GPRS, VoiceXML and other types of networks and technologies for developers to test out. Seefeldt said the centers have so far engaged about 50,000 developers.

Seefeldt said some of the fledgling applications under development include messaging and instant messaging applications, e-commerce services and-what Seefeldt said has received a lot of attention-entertainment and gaming applications.

Seefeldt said the Internet initially was slow to catch fire because there wasn’t a large pool of developers ready to take on the new medium. He said Motorola hopes to avoid that situation.

“We’re trying to speed up that process,” Seefeldt said.

And Motorola is not alone. A variety of large wireless companies-and hundreds of smaller ones-are gearing up for improved network speeds. L.M. Ericsson created its Internet Mobility World to support application developers planning for advanced networks, said Lars Nilsson, the company’s manager of strategic marketing.

“We help them to develop solutions,” he said.

Nilsson also said gaming is high on many developers’ lists, especially multiplayer games. He said the packet-based nature of 2.5G networks will be especially useful for gaming developers.

Ericsson’s development effort has so far been a success, Nilsson said, and boasts thousands of applications and developers.

Vendors like Ericsson and Motorola are not the only ones supporting the development community-the nation’s largest wireless carriers are also prepping for the advent of faster networks. AT&T Wireless Services Inc. announced recently new partnerships the company said would lead to a variety of new services and devices for its GSM/GPRS network plans. Some of the partnerships include Accenture, Compaq Computer Corp., MDSI and Siebel Systems Inc.

Cingular Wireless, which recently announced its plans for a GPRS network overlay, also publicized the potential for improved applications. The carrier mentioned instant access to e-mail, the Internet, wireless games and other services.

In order for 2.5G applications to really take off, those applications must build on what users are already familiar with, The Strategis Group’s Guy said.

Guy said 2.5G applications will likely be time and location sensitive, as well as personalized. And he agreed that entertainment and gaming applications could become a critical application, if not the famed “killer app.”

What might occur in the U.S. market is a type of basic and premium wireless service, Guy said, with consumers paying more for products and services beyond the carriers’ basic offerings.

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