Social networks are telcos’ new best friend

BARCELONA, (Reuters) – Everybody at this week’s  Mobile World Congress in Barcelona wanted to be the new best  friend of the social networks.

From the world’s biggest phone maker, Nokia, to tiny Irish  semiconductor start-up Movidia, delegates to the wireless  industry’s biggest annual gathering couldn’t stop talking about  Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

The majority of visits to such online communities are still  made by people sitting at a computer telling their friends where  they are and how they are feeling, exchanging opinions on their  favourite movies and music or uploading videos.

But the spontaneous and personal nature of much of that  communication lends itself perfectly to the mobile phone.
The top executive at MySpace, owned by News Corp, said  members reaching the network from mobile phones had quadrupled  in the last year to 20 million, out of 135 million unique  visitors in total, and Facebook has seen a similar leap.

“This is really just the start of where we’re going with  this,” MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe told Reuters.
MySpace announced deals at the fair with Nokia and Palm, who  will adapt some of their phones to make uploading pictures or  video to the social network a matter of a single push of a  button.

The company is confident that most smartphone makers will  feature MySpace in the coming year.
The so-called Facebook phone or Social Mobile made by INQ, a  spin-off of Hutchison Whampoa’s 3, won handset of the year award  from the show’s hosts, the GSM Association — and everyone  involved was eager to claim a share of the credit.

“Qualcomm’s integrated chipset technology and BREW software  have enabled INQ… to realise the potential in mobile social  networking,” gushed Enrico Salvatori, the head of chipmaker  Qualcomm’s operations in Europe.

Behind the buzz is a telecoms industry that has finally  brought together the network speed and capacity and the gadgets  to make capturing and sharing pictures or video on the run a fun  thing to do rather than a tedious and frustrating experience.
Apple’s iPhone, first announced two years ago and updated in  mid-2008, gave the industry a jolt and still sets a benchmark,  although imitators and challengers abound.

Korea’s LG Electronics has also struck out with bold designs  and models made for capturing and sharing media, and has been  marketing features like a single button for publishing video to  Google’s YouTube for over a year.

Sony Ericsson made headlines at the mobile fair with plans  to bring a 12-megapixel camera to market in the second half of  this year, and Samsung unveiled an phone with built-in  high-definition camcorder.

Components suppliers and carriers are also playing their  part — and everyone hopes to profit from the trend.
Texas Instruments is making what it calls “material” shifts  in investments to give higher priority to chip products that  make possible the richer multi-media content crucial to drive  more mobile social networking.

Movidia, armed with $14 million of venture capital funding,  has built a processor that allows users to do sophisticated  video post-production on their phones, which it will soon  release to phone makers for testing.

Chief Executive Sean Mitchell said in an interview the  company had attracted much interest from Japanese and Korean  phone makers at the show, and handsets containing such  processors could be out in time for Christmas next year. Mobile carrier Orange, the main brand of France Telecom, is  tempting customers with special pricing that offers unlimited  access to sites such as Facebook and MySpace — but meters all  other data use.

And of course MySpace itself — created to sell advertising,  not just for fun — is confident of profiting from new  opportunities to sell ads based on features unique to mobile,  like knowing where members are, if they choose to opt in.
“That will take you into a whole new realm,” DeWolfe said.  “We are focused on creating a large, profitable business.”

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