Cell phones will be ringing up more than friends
By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
More and more users want to consume entertainment everywhere," says Nokia's Nada
Usina. "Just as the Internet allowed them to access entertainment on their own
time, wireless is no longer a fixed environment. People can get entertainment
wherever they are."
Gartner DataQuest analyst Bryan Prohm says a whopping 423 million phones were
sold worldwide in 2002, up 6% over 2001; 150 million of the handsets were sold
in the USA. And while top manufacturers such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung make
the most money, wireless carriers such as Verizon, Nextel and T-Mobile are
Most carriers "are making very little or no money," he says. "If the opportunity
exists to evolve the mobile handset to handle all sorts of different
applications, why not take a chance?"
That's why wireless carriers are now promoting more than just free phones and
minutes-a-month deals. AT&T is hyping its exclusive arrangement with Fox's
popular American Idol talent hunt to vote for contestants by tapping out a text
message to send to the show, avoiding a potential busy signal on the toll-free
lines. And Sprint and T-Mobile are pitching the pleasures of photos shot and
sent with their wireless system. Both services cost extra.
"Right now, the discussion is identifying the right kinds of applications and
services people will pay for," Prohm says.
One of those that people have opted for, particularly overseas, is custom
ringtones, inexpensive downloads that personalize incoming calls. "If we have to
start there, that's OK," says Shawn Conahan, president of Vivendi Universal's
Moviso unit. "This is just the beginning. As new handsets become more powerful
and wireless networks get built up, we're getting to the point where the
wireless phone evolves from a device for voice conversation to a link to consume
In Japan, about 3.4 million people pay up to $3 a month to subscribe to the Walt
Disney company's collection of screen images and ringtones of its well-known
characters. The service is available here, but not yet marketed heavily. "If I
could get 25% of that business here, I'd have a real business," says Disney's
What of the future? Are we looking at a day where we'll be able to watch the
Oscar-nominated Chicago (from Disney-owned Miramax) on a phone? "That's a long
way off, if ever," says Shapiro. "But why not check reviews, look at pictures
from the movie, find theater locations and buy tickets from the phone? That's
all possible in the near term."
If you're willing to pay extra, some of that might even be here now. AT&T's
mMode data service allows users to check home e-mail accounts, log into AOL's
and Yahoo's messenger programs, listen to clips from Warner and Sony Music and
get traffic information, plus send and receive text messages.
AT&T's Elizabeth Schimel says that in response to the Idol promotion, "I've
heard from every network, and many production companies, about getting involved
with us. It's more than just voting. We can put some of their content on the
phone, let users play trivia games, receive funny quotes from the show. It's a
way to interact more directly with the viewer."
These services must be signed up for and, unlike dealing with the live voice of
a telemarketer, if you're not receptive to the message, you can always delete