Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mobile server creates whole new class of consumer product


To be honest, I didn't really think much of Agere's mobile server announcement at CES - didn't see the value of it. But they came to London and I had a chat with Ruediger Stroh, the executive vice president and general manager of the storage division, and the story is in Electronics Weekly.
The key is that the server uses pretty much any phone as the controller using a Java applet, so that basic phone can stream music or even video from the server over Bluetooth.
The real value of this is that all the content remains protected on the server, not copied to the phone, so it could also be used as a iTunes storage, just like an iPod, but play to a Bluetooth headset. It can also store all the family data (phone numbers, music etc) in different sections that can be played back to different headsets or phones.

JUST BACKING UP ALL THE FAMILY PHONE CONTACTS WOULD BE ENOUGH TO SELL IT!

And because it has wifi as well(it is using the Unifi WiFi + Bluetooth chip from Cambridge Silicon Radio, it could be used to download emails to the server from a hot spot, and display those on the phone - turning almost any phone into a sort-of Blackberry. Pictures and video on the server can also be displayed immediately on a TV or PC from the server via the USB2 connection or even wifi, which of which are becoming more common in TV set top boxes.

Open platform

All this is good and gives immediate value and usage. But the potential is even greater. Agere wants to make this an open platform based on the VxWorks real time operating system (although a Linux version is planned and that makes MUCH more sense for an open platform), and ARM9 or ARM11 processor core and an open programming interface so that developers can produce new applications (downloaded to the server via a USB2 link). This could mean multi-player games off the server rather than the network, linking multiple phones together.
Or you could have all the family music on it, and play different playlists back to different people in the car via Bluetooth. There are lots of different possibilities, which is what makes it so interesting.

All this from a server with between 1Gbyte for $50 and 60Gbytes for $199.

Routes to market

There are different, competing routes to market, and this will be a challenge for Agere which is s chip company, not an equipment maker. The consumer equipment makers would love this, but it needs the consumer to link to a phone. So do the operators - to encourage downloading of material and storing on the server. But they will want it through their shops with links to their phones, and there is the issue of subsidising it. This is hard to resolve and Ruediger is off to 3GSM to talk to the operators, so we will see what happens.

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