RealNetworks streams into mobiles

RealSystem Mobile will open the floodgates for media to be streamed to mobile devices. Players for Windows CE devices and even the PlayStation2 are coming
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

RealNetworks is expected to demonstrate a version of its RealOne media player for Microsoft Windows CE and Pocket PC platforms at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes this week.

The company sees the Pocket PC player as a significant development due to the sheer number of people expected to be using mobile devices to access the Internet. For instance, analyst firm Bear, Stearns and Co. predicts there will be 300 million mobile Internet users worldwide by 2003. RealNetworks claims to have more than 250 million users of its existing RealPlayer software.

The RealOne demo on Pocket PC will come as RealNetworks unveils its solution at the conference that will enable mobile network operators to stream audio and video to phones over General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and 3G networks. This solution, dubbed RealSystem Mobile, will deliver RealAudio, RealVideo, MPEG-4 and other 3rd Generation Partnership Project-standard media formats to devices with RealOne players, said the company.

Currently, RealAudio and RealVideo can only be played on one smartphone -- the Nokia 9210 Communicator -- and even on this only .SIS files downloaded from PCs can be played; streaming media formats are not yet supported.

But RealNetworks is now preparing to deliver RealOne clients that can play streamed audio and video on a variety of devices based on the Symbian operating system and Microsoft Windows CE.

"The timing is right for streaming to mobile devices now," said RealNetworks product manager for wireless consumer appliances Gregg Makuch. "We launched Real Player in 1995 when everyone was using 14.4kbps connections. With GPRS the connection speeds are fast enough to stream audio to mobile devices."

RealNetworks' main target is mobile phone users, however, and this is where RealSystem Mobile comes in. RealSystem Mobile consists of several products -- Mobile Gateway, Mobile Server and the RealOne Player -- that will be sold to network operators, and implemented by partners such as Ernst and Young.

The whole package is intended to make streamed audio and video sound and look better on mobile devices, so that network operators have something to tempt consumers with on GPRS and 3G services. Also, the content management features built into RealOne will mean operators will be able to charge for such content.

Makuch agreed that in theory a PDA user could bypass a network operator's server and gateway, but said the quality of any content streamed this way will be poorer. "The operator package will provide enhanced latency, less lossiness and seamless tracking from cell to cell as you travel," he said.

Network operators may decide to restrict users of smartphones to ring-fenced content, however, as they did with WAP services.

A port for the Sony PlayStation2 is also on the cards for a summer release, but the company said it has no plans to demonstrate this yet. The Sony port will allow users with modems to listen to the 2,000-plus Internet radio stations that broadcast using RealNetworks technology, and watch RealPlayer movies. Currently, only third-party modems are available for the PlayStation2, but Sony is planning to launch its own in April or May.

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