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    Making Real progress on mobile content


    26 operators sign up to RealNetworks

    RealNetworks, which a year ago at Cannes could point to one handset deal with Nokia and an infrastructure agreement with Ericsson, has returned this year with 26 European operators on its partner list, as well as a range of new handset partners.

    Real, whose Helix mobile platform and RealPlayer mobile client software competes with Windows Media and PacketVideo in the content delivery space, credits its June 2003 win with Vodafone for the range of customers coming on board over the past six months.

    Operators including 02, Telefónica Móviles España, Telecom Italia Mobile, TMN, WIND and TeliaSonera have installed the Helix platform, Real’s product family which includes server, mobile gateway, content producer and delivery suite — as well as the RealPlayer — for the streaming of content over mobile networks.

    On the handset side Real has announced a partnership with SonyEricsson, formerly a PacketVideo partner, to incorporate its player in SonyEricsson’s media phones, alongside its 3GPP version.

    Real also has agreements with Motorola for its Linux phones, Nokia for its Series60 handsets, on the Siemens SX1 and Sendo X. The player is also on Palm OS based devices from Treo and Palm, and is the standard player on the Openwave Phone Tool v7 platform.

    General manager of mobile products and services at RealNetworks, Lee Joseph, said that the Vodafone deal had helped in two main ways. First was that in producing a platform to Vodafone’s specification, other operators could be confident that the product had been rigorously tested and proven. The second was that Vodafone could bring its muscle to bear to lean on handset manufacturers to incorporate RealPlayer Mobile.

    “We are petty well into the market based on our work with Vodafone. Our technology was built to their specification. We approached this market brand new, as a leader in Internet streaming, and said tell us exactly what we need to do to build this. Vodafone was important because rather than having an operator in one country this was about requirements coming in from all over Europe. So if we’ve built to the Vodafone specification we felt very comfortable we could take that and sell to the rest of the market.”

    The media player market sees competition between Microsoft and Real, with PacketVideo also a contender under the 3GPP standard. Joseph’s opinion is that Microsoft will not have the dominance in the mobile market it has in fixed line computing.

    “We have an advantage here that in the internet Microsoft took control of the OS. I don’t think the mobile industry is going to hand over control and let them have that kind of dominance that they have today on the internet side.”

    On the 3GPP standard, Joseph acknowledged the attraction of an open format and said people might query why operators would adopt the 3GPP media standard as well as the Real format. But he also questioned whether the “committee” approach of standards building was the best way to proceed. 

    “We’ve always had the approach that the 3GPP format will never gain ubiquity unless they are as good at or better than the proprietary formats. We’re not going to slow down and let them catch up – we’re going to continue to drive forward and put the onus on them to make sure they innovate quickly. If we don’t do that Microsoft will pass us by and leave us in the dust.”

    In any case, Joseph claimed, the attraction of Real is that an operator can have a Real server and middleware platform and still stream content to Windows Mobile or 3GPP handsets.

    “We’re getting away from this idea that you’ve got to only use our technology with this device. We can stream to a device with Microsoft, Linux, Symbian, and are part of the OpenWave platform. So we want 3GPP to be adopted because we support it but they have to earn that adoption.”

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