Wireless LAN turns mobiles into money savers
Dirk Averesch visits the CeBIT trade fair to discover than LAN has become WLAN in the world of smartphone technology.
A year back, wireless LAN still had a tang of the exotic about it when installed in a wireless phone.
But at CeBIT, the trade fair in Germany that offers an annual snapshot of how far we have come towards a networked world, every smartphone worthy of the name will this year have a hi-res camera, built-in satellite navigation and ... nifty WLAN software.
WLAN comes into its own in three kinds of places: in hot spots which are often found at coffee bars, on corporate and academic campuses, and in the home. Mostly it does not cost anything to use, offering big savings for cost-conscious mobile phone owners.
One can route data through a WLAN, hook up for cheap phone calls by Skype and similar services, and tune in to internet radio shows.
Among the goodies at CeBIT, to take place March 4-9, will be several high-end phones from Taiwanese manufacturer Asus, including the WLAN-enabled M930. At first glance there's just a 2-inch display on this model with a regular keypad.
There's more to the M930 than meets the eye though, because you can open it like a book and discover a QWERTY keyboard and an extra 2.6-inch, wide-format display on the inside. The Windows Mobile 6 operating system is part of the deal.
"We expect to sell it in Europe for under 500 euros (735 dollars) net of tax," said Asus spokesman Holger Schmidt.
Nokia, maker of four in every 10 mobiles sold, has been pushing WLAN as a feature of its business-user phones.
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in mid-February, the Finnish company unveiled a new model with a WLAN capability, the N78.
There has been media speculation that another model, the E71, is coming up in March, though it will not be launched at CeBIT. Nokia no longer has a booth of its own at the fair in Hanover.
The N model has GPS sat-nav built in and will be priced at 349 euros net in Europe in the second quarter. It runs the Symbian operating system and its browser can handle Flash files, meaning it can play videos straight out of YouTube.
Videos munch up gigabyte allowances on wireless-phone plans, so it makes sense to download them via WLAN. That option also comes into its own with the Nokia's internet-radio client software, a feature of Symbian S60 3rd Edition.
You can tune in and listen for hours, hunt up new stations and save them as favourites.
Samsung of South Korea will be at CeBIT with its GH-G810, a WLAN and sat-nav phone with a 3.5-inch touch-screen that also plays Flash videos. Touch-screens are all the rage since the advent of the Apple iPhone.
Also touch-enabled is Toshiba of Japan's G810, which comes with a 2.8-inch tactile display and weighs just 120 grams.
"The great thing is that you can set up a wi-fi network in your home, carry these phones around the house, and avoid expensive mobile-phone charges," Daniel Optendrenk, an LG executive in Germany, explained.
LG of South Korea brought out its first WLAN enabled smartphone last autumn and will be following through with the KS20 in the second quarter of this year: it has a 2.8-inch touch-screen and Windows Mobile 6 features.
Users continue to voice impatience with the frequent battery charges that smartphones need and there is no denying that an activated WLAN module in a phone can drain the battery fast.
"You'll find they all have the problem. WLAN is thirsty on energy," admits Optendrenk.
London-headquartered Sony Ericsson agrees.
"If you use WLAN a lot, your battery will go flat fairly quickly," said executive Jan Forster, "but Sony Ericsson is trying to improve battery capacity and optimize the transmission power of the phones.
The company's Xperia X1 model has a 3-inch screen with a remarkable 800 by 480 pixels on display, plus a little QWERTY keyboard that slides out.
Kansas-based Garmin, the sat-nav company, will be at CeBIT with its feature-packed Nuvifone, the second phone in its range. Its 3.5-inch, touch-sensitive display not only puts up maps but also regular internet content obtained by WLAN or mobile phone account.
Garmin is not expected to have the device out on sale in world markets until the third quarter of this year.
29 February 2008