CTIA exhibitors hope to seize a multimedia craze

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Mobile operators, content providers and other participants at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment trade show this week in San Francisco will be gearing up for an expected boom in mobile multimedia in the U.S.

The country is far behind Europe and Asia in using mobile phones for more than talking, but it's already begun to catch up, according to IDC analyst Lewis Ward. U.S. mobile operators get about 5 percent of their revenue from consumer and enterprise data services now, and those offerings should bring in about 15 percent by 2008, he said. By comparison, one Irish carrier is making about 30 percent of its revenue from data and an operator in the Philippines is at 20 percent, Ward said.

Messaging is still the most popular mobile data service in the U.S., but downloadable ringtones have already caught on and graphics are just starting to take off, according to Ward. Games are next in line, he said, and their higher price tags can drive a lot of revenue.

"This maturity means there are a lot of companies that want to deliver this kind of content onto handsets," Ward said. Other emerging consumer data services include downloadable music, streaming video, alert services, friendship networking and ringback tones -- tunes that play in the background when someone is calling your phone and waiting for you to pick up.

Though some mobile operators want to deal directly with content providers such as movie studios and record labels, thus keeping a bigger chunk of the eventual revenue for themselves, content aggregators play a key intermediary role for others, according to Ward.

Several companies are set to take stabs at the emerging opportunity on Monday.

VeriSign Inc. is using its May acquisition of Berlin-based wireless services provider Jamba AG to extend its e-commerce support services into the mobile arena. Leveraging lessons learned in Europe, it is set to introduce Monday an end-to-end content distribution service for mobile operators, said Mahi de Silva, a senior vice president at VeriSign, in Mountain View, California.

The new VeriSign Digital Content Services is a set of applications that form a complete utility for delivering content, according to VeriSign. The company can deliver its own portfolio of content, house other content that a carrier wants to offer, secure transactions and provide the billing infrastructure and the user interface, de Silva said. It can manage and distribute any type of mobile content and integrate it with the carrier's billing and Web portal infrastructure, he said.

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