3GSM Diary: The chillin' house, out of Africa and Olympic efforts

Day 4

Day 4

Let's get the important diary entry out of the way first. For Craig David, it may have been early but the young singer - and I disclose here that I'm no fan - gave a fine performance on the morning of the third day. But it was about more than the music, you see.

In a 'fireside chat' of an interview, he filled in an appreciative audience in the main conference hall as to how he recorded his first hit single, 'Fill Me In', using the voicemail on his mobile phone. (Perhaps fitting for a song containing the lyric "All calls diverted to answerphone/ Please leave a message after the tone".)

But it turns out that as the seven-day limit on saved messages came around, his "service provider" (his words) started deleting the first verses he came up with. The network as arbiter of taste? Surely not.

But it got better. Craig, a self-confessed gadget freak, explained how he now has his London home set up to be controlled remotely. He said he can, for example, send a text to his home with an instruction such as 'Chill', so that when he gets there, presumably after a hard day at a technology trade show, everything is nice and relaxed. He even gets a text back saying: 'The house is chillin'.'

I once tried a similar process. Upon exiting my local Tube station on the way home from work, I texted my wife: 'Make some tea'. My house was definitely not chillin' on my return.

And how did Craig's eager interviewer end the 10-minute interview? He encouraged him to have a walk around the various handset vendor stands to check out the latest handsets. (I'm sure he did: "Excuse me, Mr Samsung, what's the latest on HSUPA?") Craig was even promised he'd have "an eye-gasm". Steady on.

So the last 24 hours got off to a good start and there were more highlights to come.

One of the great things about a show like 3GSM is the better-than-usual access you get to interesting companies, people and projects from all over the world. Sure, a good part of your time is spent speaking to the usual suspects but a balanced diet is about more than big keynotes, press conferences and back-to-back briefings.

So it was that I got the latest, from the top, from Kuwaiti operator MTC and its now subsidiary Celtel, which has furthered MTC's expansion from the Middle East and North Africa down into sub-Saharan Africa.

MTC made some headlines in the UK two and half years ago when it struck a co-branding deal with Vodafone but now it is achieving scale on its own behalf. It commissioned market researchers to find out more about the markets where it operates (they vary greatly across Arab nations, for example) and together with CEO Dr Saad Al-Barrak the results were presented.

There was talk of successes, of eight jobs created in Egypt for every one job in mobile, of farmers in the Congo no longer getting gypped on prices, of booming micro-businesses in rural areas across the Middle East and North Africa. In Iraq, mobiles are for personal security first and foremost, whereas it is often a battle of the airwaves serving Palestinians, we were told.

And the company clearly has ambitions elsewhere, no longer in the shadow of a Vodafone.

"At the beginning, we had no choice but to dance with the elephants, swim with the sharks and sleep with the wolves," MTC's Al-Barrack said when I asked him about future partnerships.

Later on, Mohamed Ibrahim, the man who built up Celtel into a $3.5bn acquisition for MTC, spoke brilliantly on Africa. He proclaimed the continent "open for business" and asked the world to look beyond the all-too-familiar media preoccupation with famine, war and terrorist camps.

"The vast majority [of people in Africa] are all boring people - just like you guys," he said with a smile, pointing at delegates in the audience, shifting awkwardly in their seats for more than one reason.

His operations have to deal with powering their own cell sites (through delivering fuel regularly around countries with awful roads) and building their own backbones. It's quite a story and I can't do it justice here. But as I blogged yesterday, let's not think it's only Japan and Korea that can teach us lessons about changing business models and changing lives.

The Winter Olympics are on right now and while, as an aside, I spent some of last night chortling at speed skating relays (is it me or are the best winter sports those where people crash spectacularly?), it occurred to me how these events act as a catalyst for tech rollouts.

On Tuesday, I heard TIM Italia CEO Riccardo Ruggiero talking about not just using 3.5G HSDPA at the Turin Olympics now but also trialling WiBro, which most people consider an almost exclusively Korean wireless broadband approach.

What's more, word out of China is that the country will finally push ahead with 3G - including its own flavour, TD-SCDMA to sit alongside the W-CDMA and CDMA2000 used in the rest of the world already - not so much because, well, it just really should and not because it'll benefit its own manufacturers (though it will). It's in a large part because it wants 3G in place before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Sticking on China, one nugget more: within the country, 2.7 billion SMS messages were sent as the Chinese New Year kicked in, plus another 50 million MMS multimedia messages.

And finally hats off to Peter Erskine over at O2, he of the now Spanish parents. He shared one of the liveliest panels of the show with execs from MTV Networks, Freemantle Media and Endemol, the latter two companies of American Idol and Big Brother fame, respectively.

More on their shenanigans tomorrow, in my final diary entry but for now I want to say it's good that O2 has been telling us some useful info on their mobile TV trial, which uses DVB-H with about 400 people in Oxford. He was "very pleasantly surprised" that 80 per cent of participants gave the 16 channels on offer this way the thumbs-up, averaging about 3.5 hours of viewing per week.

Mobile TV - hardly the biggest business app, admittedly - has been one of the big stories of the week and I look forward to other companies saying more about what they've found out in trials. Or Virgin Mobile could always lend me one of their new TV phones...

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