- 12 Feb 08, 18:42 GMT
Do you really want to watch movies on your mobile? And would you rather get unlimited music bundled with your phone, or pay for each track? As media giants examine new opportunities and risks in the mobile world, these are two questions being pondered by industry executives in Barcelona. And by Isabella Rossellini.
The actress and film-maker – and daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini – is one of the more unlikely visitors to the more Mobile World Congress but she certainly made a far more interesting interviewee than most of the executives with their stream of acronyms and jargon.
Ms Rossellini is here to promote a series of short films she has made especially for mobile phones, in a project backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Channel. Her five films are called “Green Porno” and, believe it or not, are about the sex lives of insects. As she explained, how can you go wrong with a mixture of innovation, environmentalism and sex?
Isabella Rossellini said she wasn't the right person to comment on the business model for mobile movies – then went on to talk in some detail about the attractions to advertisers of a medium where you know exactly who is watching your content.
For now, short movies are likely to be seen as little more than promotional gimmicks used by operators to show off the capabilities of their handsets. It's in the business of music on the mobile that the real media battle is now hotting up.
Both the record labels and the mobile industry are determined not to let Apple's iPhone win the same dominance in mobile music as it has on the desktop. And after saying goodbye to Isabella Rossellini I went to get a glimpse of the secret weapon that is supposed to stop that happening.
Rob Lewis of Omnifone – the British firm whose MusicStation service is used by a number of networks as an iTunes rival – showed me the new LG phone which is supposed to be the iPhone killer. It comes loaded with MusicStation Max, which promises unlimited free music downloads over a 3G network. Well actually, there will be a limit – you can't own more music than the phone holds.
But Mr Lewis was quite convincing about the attractions – the phone will probably come free with an 18 month contract, its contents will be continuously backed up onto the network's server, so if you lose the handset you can retrieve your music, and if you decide not to renew the contract you can keep what's on your phone. The one downside is that you never actually “own” the music – the DRM prevents you from burning it to a CD, for instance.
We were not allowed to film the phone – but I can tell you it's a touchscreen device which looks just like an iPhone but also has a slide-out keyboard. So is this really the device which will give the music industry a chance to halt Apple's inexorable advance as a digital music giant?
Maybe, but music fans now seem convinced that anything cool has got to have an “i” in front of it, so don't bet on it.
- 12 Feb 08, 11:37 GMT
There are a number of prototype handsets showing off the Google Android platform at the Barcelona show. I found one on the stand of the British chip firm ARM.
Interestingly, the firm - which has relationships with all of the big phone makers - was very keen to talk about the Open Handset Alliance rather than mention Google. It shows there is already sensitivity about how much of a disruptive role Google could play in this industry.
- 12 Feb 08, 08:42 GMT
The news that the UK government is considering legislation to ban people from the net if they are found guilty of online copyright theft is a dramatic escalation in the battle against "piracy".
If the law were enacted it would turn ISPs, like BT, Tiscali and Virgin, into a pro-active police force who would have to monitor traffic on the internet in order to look out for copyright files being swapped online.
This legislation would mean the UK would have the most stringent and prohibitive anti-piracy laws in the world.
It would be a technical challenge for ISPs to do this. Monitoring traffic that is shared using file-sharing tools like BitTorrent is perfectly feasible - as the programs use specific internet ports. In fact, ISPs already monitor file-sharing traffic across the net in order to shape the flow of information - prioritising certain bits of data over others.
Knowing where to look isn't the problem; knowing what to look for is. Every day many terabytes of data are being shared over the internet using file-sharing tools. Individual packets of information can be inspected - but who can tell if Person A is sharing an MP3 file of his own band performing with Person B or if it's the latest Kylie track?
Would all digital content have to be watermarked? Would ISPs have responsibility for this? If not, who would?
And there is evidence that more people are encrypting files that they send over peer to peer networks, making it difficult to know exactly what they are sharing. That may give rise to further suspicion but will ISPs be given powers to force users to decrypt their files?
Internet service providers have long been loath to become the net police - for obvious legal and financial reasons. They see themselves as passive conduits, like a road network or the postal system.
The global record industry has been quick to back the government's proposal.
"It is simply not acceptable for ISPs to turn a blind eye to the piracy on their networks which is at such a rate that there are 20 illegal music downloads for every legal track sold," said John Kennedy of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries.
Digital rights activist will be outraged by this move, I'm sure. Monitoring our internet traffic will have huge privacy issues.
No-one can deny that the scale of copyright theft is mammoth. A cursory glance at a website like The Pirate Bay revels thousands of films, TV programmes, albums, software programs etc being shared across the net.
But there is legitimate debate about what this means to the global content industry and to consumers. Does it signal a seismic shift in the way people want to pay, use and share their content, and what we understand by copyright? Or is it wholesale theft that needs to be stamped out user by user by user?
As I suspected, there are already warnings about the privacy implications of this proposal as well as warnings about how big a technical challenge it would be.
Patrick Charnley, solicitor in the media group at international law firm Eversheds, comments: "In practice, however, the government's proposals may prove difficult to implement. How, for example, would an ISP deal with a person downloading legal peer-to-peer content ?
"If an ISP has to monitor exactly what each user is doing on sites normally known for their illegal content, not only may this be an unacceptably onerous task, but it may also land the ISPs on the wrong side of privacy law."
- 12 Feb 08, 07:06 GMT
It's a little white box with a somewhat bizarre name but the Femtocell will have more impact on the way we use phones than any of the flashy new handsets unveiled here. It is device which creates a mini 3g network inside your home and then introduces your mobile to your broadband connection.
The idea is that this means you will not only get a much better signal but be able to receive a lot of services on your mobile that may be difficult to access when you are on the move – catch-up TV, for instance. The mobile operators love the idea because it offers them a cheap way of extending their networks and gets them into the home to compete against fixed-line businesses and VOIP.
Plenty of big firms are showing off Femtocell technology – but a small British start-up Ubiquisys looks to have a good chance of getting the first product onto the market. Its technology is being used in a British trial by O2 and there could be a commercial launch within a year.
Chris Gilbert of Ubiquisys is keen to stress that the Femtocell uses very little power - “An RF engineer would struggle to detect it in your home”- so those who are concerned about health risks from phone masts should no more worry about a Femtocell than about next door's microwave oven.
This is the one device I've seen in Barcelona that really stands out from the crowd in its ability to change the game, But I still think they need to do something about that name.
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