Saturday, 13 May 2006 17:12

Google Talk on Nokia tablet heralds wireless war

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The news that mobile handset market leader Nokia will release a new tablet handheld device with Google Talk heralds the beginning of a new era in mobile communications and sounds a warning to traditional mobile carriers. Mobile internet telephony is about to burst upon the scene and both Google and Nokia want to be at the forefront of an emerging market for both applications and hardware.

Unlike mainstream mobile telephony, which relies on cellular base stations, the new Nokia will connect to the internet via localised Wi-Fi networks, which are becoming more prevalent by the day in large cities, with wireless hot spots at places like cafes and airports. With the emerging WiMAX techology promising ubiquitous mobile wireless broadband connectivity without the need for direct line-of-sight base stations, devices like the new Nokia tablet running web-based voice and instant messaging  applications like Google Talk, threaten to encroach on the space occupied by the current mobile telephony market.

For the the present, mobile telephony with its almost global network coverage is still the best way to talk and message wirelessly. However, even with the advent of 3G networks, bandwidth is limited and not good enough for true broadband internet connectivity. Today's mobile phones are less than average web browsers. Most people who want to surf the net wirelessly expect true broadband and they want to be able to see the screen. Notebooks are a little bit large to lug around, so a portable tablet like the Nokia 770, and presumably its successor, would appear to be a good alternative.

WiMAX like technologies, such as iBurst from privately-owned San Jose company ArrayComm, have already been deployed in major cities across Australia and South Africa, offering 1 megabit per second broadband. In both countries the take-up has been reasonably good and the bandwidth is good enough for internet telephony and messaging applications, such as Skype, as well as the instant messaging applications from Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Google.

Of course Nokia will not be the only handset manufacturers to bring out handheld wireless broadband devices. As well as other mobile handset manufacturers, such as Motorola and Sony Ericsson, there are the smartphone and PDA makers, such as RIM and Palm, as well as the major PC manufacturers, all converging into one scramble for hardware marketshare in the wireless broadband space.

Then there is the operating system market to consider. No doubt Microsoft will be a player with Windows CE. However, it will have stiff opposition. Symbian OS is the mobile phone operating system widely used by Nokia and other smartphone manufacturers. However, the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet runs a Linux-based operating system called Nokia Internet Tablet 2005 and it's a fair bet that the new device to be announced on Tuesday will run the same Linux-based system.

Then of course, just to confuse the issue further, the world's worst kept secret is that Apple is working on its own "iPhone" with iPod functionality. A report today that Apple is working together with Japanese broadband systems developer Softbank, no doubt to facilitate the technology to download music from its iTunes store, does not shed light on what type of wireless networks the iPhone would connect to or what operating system the phone will use. Knowing Apple, it could even be working on a universal mobile device that can connect to both Wi-Fi and cellular networks, looks like a large iPod and runs Mac OSX. Don't laugh, anything can happen!

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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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