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Swedish startups ring up cellphones

Posted: 02 Jan 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Swedish startup? mobile market? cellphone?

Rebtel's Winbladh aims to slash costs for international calls.

A tour around Stockholm, Sweden, its bustling suburbs, and the nearby Norrkoping Science Park, reveals a hotbed of cellphone developmentssome of it disruptive, some of it in the category of technology searching for a solution.

One recurring theme is moving the Internet to the mobile phone. At present, webpages are squeezed down to tiny, hard-to-read displays; most have to be reworked before they can be displayed on mobile phones; and most look lousy when compared with PC or Mac pages.

One startup, Mobizoft, has come up with a way to improve the rendering of Web pages on mobile-phone displays. Founded in 2005, Mobizoft claims its Publish2Mobile tool improves the delivery and presentation of mobile Web pages by leveraging device- and browser-specific data. The tool also offers image compression and conversion. Another Mobizoft product, Content-4Mobile, is being promoted as allowing users to post videos to the Web directly from a mobile phone.

'Seeing' phone
Swedish technology companies are at the forefront of efforts to incorporate navigation into mobile phones. One effort, overseen by a startup called Mobile Sorcery, seeks to combine navigation technology with audio to deliver location-based services for the blind and the elderly.

Users enter a key on a handset to determine the best route to a destination. A mobile-phone earpiece tells them in advance when and how much to turn, alerts them to obstacles, and updates them on how far it is to their ultimate destination.

Groenberg's BlackBerry buster, Momail, is a free mobile e-mail service that leverages the often-useless mobile e-mail client on current handsets. Momail uses a clientless mobile-messaging engine to deliver mail, photos and other attachments to mobile phones, including the iPhone. Plus, it's fast enough to satisfy the instant-messaging crowd, said Groenberg. While the basic service is free, advertising and premium services will pay the bills. The free service has been launched in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.

Cheaper calls
For its part, Rebtel's business strategy is to circumvent wireless operators and make international calls local-and, therefore, cheap. "We're building a relationship with real customers," said Hjalmar Winbladh. Callers provide Rebtel with the mobile-phone number of an overseas friend. The company then supplies a local number that allows users to call back at local rates. The service leverages free minutes for local and weekend calls to complete the connections-minutes that often go unused, are not rolled over and are lost each month on the bottom lines of mobile carriers.

The cost of international calls lies in routing the call to a mobile phone. Rebtel routes the call via the Web. Hence, international calls that can cost tens of dollars per minute on most services cost pennies via Rebtel. Winbladh said the service is in use in 42 countries and that traffic on Rebtel's network is increasing steadily. He said the average Rebtel call lasts about 13 minutes.

Beyond navigation
Sweden is also at the leading edge of efforts to bring GPS capabilities to mobile phones. Those efforts include several false starts here that date as far back as the 1990s. Magnus Nilsson, CEO of Wayfinder, said handset navigation would have taken off by now if handset makers like Nokia had gotten their way and wireless operators had gotten off the dime sooner.

"No one, besides Nokia, really has a navigation strategy," asserted Nilsson, a venture capitalist who acquired Wayfinder in 2002. Wayfinder's strategy is to develop other cell-based location services beyond navigation. An example is a "friend finder" service, which would help one user locate another user on the network, even though neither has called the other.

The company recently signed a deal with Indian wireless operator Airtel to provide navigation services. Nilsson expects GPS phones to gain traction in the wireless market in 2008. "It's already taking off," he said. "We clearly see that it's happening," despite slow adoption by wireless operators.

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