The Mobile World Congress isn't just about an infinite number of similar handsets, operators trying to get anyone interested in mobile TV, and platform wars. Lots of companies have something just that little bit different on offer.
CSR — aka Cambridge Silicon Radio — shows off its eGPS technology.
This uses extremely accurate timing information extracted from mobile-phone network base stations to increase the accuracy and speed of GPS locations derived from satellite signals. At the show, they were getting around 10-nanosecond accuracy, or 10 billionths of a second.
eGPS doesn't need any specialist hardware beyond the ordinary GPS and GSM/3G radios; it takes between 20 and 100 MIPS of processor power, depending on what it's doing.
One of the best bits of the Mobile World Congress is finding small companies doing smart things. Funambol writes open-source software that provides push email, data synchronisation, software deployment and so on — and because it's open source, its user community is constantly adding new phones to its supported roster.
Right now, the company claims that it supports half the phones in the world, and that companies like CA and HP are using the software for enterprise deployment. Its latest idea is ad-supported push email, where a one-line advert appears in your email list: Funambol says this could make push email services free for consumers and profitable for operators.
We got quite excited when we saw this stack of retail boxes for the Readius wireless connected ebook with flexible e-ink screen (made in Southampton, to boot). Unfortunately, they're empty — the Readius should go into production later this year and will be sold through mobile-phone operators
Whackiest exhibitor of the show so far — still time for Microsoft to catch up — is Zlango, which sells pictogram messaging.
A cross between hieroglyphics and emoticons, it lets mobile users communicate with each other even if they don't share the same language, or indeed any sense of taste. As this picture shows, the company — which hails from Tel Aviv — may not quite have its marketing message tuned and ready for Saudi.
You just know it won't be usable, with the interface and battery life battling it out to be the most annoying thing in your world. It may not even get to the UK. Public usage may render the wearer ridiculous.
So why do you want an LG wrist GSM phone? Because you do, don't you?
Another LG phone, the KF600, is competently designed but doesn't have any outstanding specifications — except one. Keith Haring, the artist they've hired to do the wallpaper designs, has been dead for nearly 20 years, meaning either LG or Haring showed exceptional vision two decades ago, or the LG engineers have managed to get an exceptionally long distance with their transmitter technology.
As wireless-networking technology gets more complicated, the test equipment gets ever more baroque. Rohde and Schwartz is currently working on LTE (Long Term Evolution — 4G, in other words) equipment, as well as stacks like this, which evaluate multiple antenna systems carrying multiple data streams.
G24 make nanotechnology-based flexible solar cells out of titanium and titanium dioxide, which are packaged into mobile-phone chargers like this one. It provides around 150 mA, which is enough to squeeze 20 minutes of talk time out of an hour of strong sunlight. The charger also works well under weak light — well, the company is based in Cardiff — and is recharging a phone here under three ordinary 12v light bulbs.
One of the best things about G24's solar-cell technology is that it's made in a continuous flexible strip that can be cut up to fit a wide variety of applications. The company is planning phone kiosks, lighting and even complete roofs for remote internet cafes.
Inewit is a new company from Belgium, making standalone Wi-Fi/GSM/3G/wired Ethernet video cameras with backup batteries and an SMS interface. Plonk one wherever you like, provide it with power, and it will phone you when it spots movement. Or you can just dial in and see what's going on.
There's a battery in there to keep things ticking over for between two and four hours if the power goes away, and it all runs on Linux. Getting the hardware and software going was the easy bit: finding ways to sell the things in a mobile market surprisingly resistant to innovation is proving more challenging.