The French may become the first nation to experience the "beam me up Scottie" effect this summer when France Telecom starts testing integrated voice, data and video services based on the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) standard, according to a press release earlier this week.
As part of its "Internet in Every Pocket" strategy, a hundred users have been given handheld PCs and PDAs to test the new types of applications made possible by UMTS technology. The tests will start in September. Models of the applications have already been designed to simulate typical services for both business users and consumers.
Among the services that will be offered are localized information, games, on-demand radio or TV and videotelephony.
Among the scenarios that testers will embrace, according to the press release, are using their PDAs or handheld PCs to access maps and determine the shortest routes between two points, to find a nearby florist or movie theater, or check promotions offered by stores in the area, online auctions or instant access to tourist information on the area where the user is traveling. Other more multimedia rich services are TV and radio broadcasting, including on-demand videos, trailers for movies, targeted information such as weather, regional news flashes or music compilations.
Naturally, program content and image quality will depend on the size of the screens on the devices used. Among the possible services are.
On the level of communications, the terminals can also be used to set up videoconferencing between users. The display screen format, at minimum the size of a phone card, will provide unprecedented quality for transmission on a wireless network.
And for those on the road, the testers will also experiment with sharing documents during a conversation, or taking photos and sending them to an email address to create instant electronic post cards.
The trial program will also include an interactive game played from the wireless terminals. Players will compete in a fishing contest in a 2D-3D environment. Developed using the MPEG-4 standard, this type of wireless gaming will be scalable to match the bandwidth and types of terminals available in the future. It will also support insertion of advertising, enabling players to win prizes or subscriptions.
To date, France Telecom provides mobile phones on its Itineris GSM network and Internet access via its Wanado Internet service, its mobile Internet strategy embraces both of these networks.
The Itineris GSM network also provides WAP services, which have been under active testing since early May and are available to all users of the Itineris GSM network, including prepaid subscribers.
Users can personalize their interface to access the new Voila Mobile search engine and Web guide -- a WAP version of the existing Voila portal. They can also send and receive e-mail, and use a simple online organizer, all directly from the handset screen.
So far France Telecom, has been selling a customized version of the Nokia 7110 WAP phone, but plans are in hand to offer the Mitsubishi Trium handset for Ola (prepaid) users in July, followed by other WAP phones in the fall.
France Telecom said it has ordered 5 million WAP handsets for sale in the coming months, as it expects heavy demand for its WAP Internet services.
While most of France has been limited to using WAP services at the GSM data standard of 9,600 bits per second (bps), France Telecom has been testing its general packet radio service (GPRS) facility at speeds of up to 40,000 bps since early May in the Southern half of Paris. GPRS can run at speeds of up to 114,000 bps.
Effective this week, the GPRS facility has been rolled out to the southern suburbs of Villejuif and Rungis, and will be progressively expanded until near 100 percent coverage is achieved by the end of the year -- (Albawaba.com & Wire Services)
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