3G Lab demos MMS user interface for 2.5, 3G

3G Lab on Monday unveiled its software designed to allow user interfaces on mobile devices using 3G (third-generation) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), or so-called 2.5G, technology to be changed and personalized as easily as changing a mobile ring tone.

"It is modular and can be built into many different handsets from any network operator. It plugs right into the Linux platform but has an architecture making it completely portable, so it could also work with the Symbian (Ltd.) operating system and with Microsoft's OS as well," said Stephen Ives, 3G Lab's Chief Executive Officer.

The new software product, expected to ship in 18 months, can be added to mobile devices by manufacturers or by network operators.

The new GUI (Graphical User Interface) can support basic ring-tones and logos and will be aimed at network operators, but could also be targeted at corporations interested in locking down the user interfaces of their employees' mobile phones and connected PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), Ives said.

"It is very inexpensive to add to a phone and lets users or network operators completely rejig the prioritization on their screen. It's designed to be a fun thing but is also a way for network operators to brand the phone more strongly as well. It takes personalization to a whole new level," Ives said.

3G Lab is first partnering with Red Hat Inc. on its GUI. The companies already have a partnership to bring open source to wireless devices and are currently developing an operating platform for next-generation mobile phones and connected PDAs. Called eCos/M3, the operating platform is to be based on Red Hat's eCos (Embedded Configurable Operating System) product.

But while Microsoft's Stinger platform and Symbian's Epoc system are the primary competition for eCos/M3, 3G Lab sees those companies as potential partners for its GUI technology. "In the U.K. alone, it's estimated that 250 million pounds (US$364 million) will be spent by people buying new ring tones for their mobile phones this year. The market for our GUI is at least that big, if not bigger," Ives said.

While downloadable ring tones use SMS (Short Message System) technology to capture and enable the service, the multimedia GUIs will be provided through MMS (Mobile Multimedia Services), Ives said. MMS-capable handsets allow users to send and receive multimedia content such as JPEG and MP3 files, as well as things like images clipped from a digital camera.

In October, Nokia Corp., the world's largest supplier of mobile phones, and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB announced that they will begin testing the interoperability of MMS services and applications between different manufacturers next year. While the GUI is already Java-enabled, Ives hopes that in about a year and a half when the product ships, 3G Lab will be able to have Java embedded into the product so that it can offer Java-based services over the phone.

In terms of cost, Ives was reluctant to saw just how much the company's GUI would run. "Pricing for embedded products aren't generally made public but I can say that the cost of our GUI won't make a material difference to the retail price of the handsets," Ives said.

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