First peek at mobile videophones

A demonstration in Korea has shown the capabilities of Emblaze Systems and Samsung's wireless video. The system uses MPEG4 streaming videophones and the Emblaze A2 video chip, which alters the quality of pictures to suit available bandwidth.

LONDON (ZDNet UK)--Emblaze Systems and Samsung have demonstrated video on demand over a wireless network in Korea. The system uses MPEG4 streaming videophones and the Emblaze A2 video chip, which alters the quality of pictures to suit available bandwidth. As bandwidth increases, so does the resolution of the image.

Eli Reifman, chief executive of Emblaze Systems, said the network uses a version of CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology known as IS95C, rather than the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) standard used in Europe. However, the service was only capable of data transfer rates similar to those of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

During the demonstration of a streamed weather report, the phone only showed transfer rates of about 10kbit/s, though Emblaze said that "in perfect conditions" it would be closer to 30kbit/s.

Speaking after the demonstrations, Sharon Carmel, cofounder of Emblaze, was realistic about the capabilities of the network. He said that IS95C was the "first step on the road" to third-generation (3G) mobile systems, and added that the service would be improved as the number of users increased. He said that true 3G service may not arrive until 2009.

Emblaze justifies labelling the service 3G because of a recent upgrade to the network. SK Telecom, the carrier involved, recently upgraded its network and discovered during testing that it was capable of 144kbit/s, just enough to qualify as 3G under the International Telecoms Union definition.

Alex Dee, an analyst at financial services firm Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, said it was the most advanced network he had seen, and added that it was "encouraging to see video on a system less powerful than 3G".

However, Roesheen Cosgrave, a spokeswoman for BT Wireless, was less generous. "If that's what my company is working towards, I will be very disappointed," she said.

Emblaze's Reifman said that phones for video on demand would be rolled out in Asia by July. He added that phones with a video conferencing capability would be available within the next 12 to 18 months.

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