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Wireless eyes digital photo frames

Posted: 16 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3G? digital photo frame? wireless carrier? process?

The latest mobile phones won't be the only attraction for cellular carriers at the Mobile World Congress. EE Times has learned that wireless operators are suddenly hot to trot over digital photo frames.

Wireless carriers see the digital photo frame as a "third screen," beyond cellphones and PCs, into which they can plug 3G data cards.

In theory, a 3G card will help digital photo frames connect to the Internet, allowing consumers to download pictures directly from photo sharing sites. By leveraging the 3G-enabled digital photo frame, cellular carriers hope to finally crack the home market, where they haven't had much luck so far.

Marvell Technology Group, for one, said it is booked solid with meetings with carriers next week in Barcelona, Spain, specifically to discuss connected digital photo frames.

Carriers' requests for proposals and quotes have been circulating for awhile, said Kishore Manghnani, VP for application processors, consumer and computing business group at Marvell.

Beyond chips that go inside mobile handsets, Marvell is now pushing a new application processor based on its Sheeva CPU core running up to 1.2GHz. It was developed for the connected digital photo frame market.

While suppliers of connected digital photo frames are typically looking to Wi-Fi networks to enable connectivity, cellular operators are pursuing an opportunity of their own.

T-Mobile, for example, quietly launched in the United States late last year a 7-inch digital photo frame, called Cameo, with GPRS service on the T-Mobile network. The frame, priced at $100, costs $10 a month, allowing users to load images from MMS and e-mail, as well as from a memory card slot embedded in the device.

Vodafone in Germany and Orange in France are also looking into connecting cellular cards into digital photo frames, according to Harry Wang, senior analyst at Parks Associates. Verizon and AT&T are interested in an electronic device called a "home center" which can display digital photos, while connected to a fixed-line phone, he added.

Get connected
"The tricky part," said Wang, "is that we don't know whether consumers are interested in paying a $10 monthly charge" for the sole purpose of downloading photos.

Some operators are also contemplating adding a VoIP service to the digital photo frame. That's righttalking pictures. Cue Al Jolson.

"It's still a novel concept and no carriers understand enough of its business model," said Wang. "Digital photo frames can be bundled with a variety of services via broadband connections."

Richard Miller, chief strategy officer at RMI Corp., said, "The big problem carriers solve is connectivity." Consumers would not need to type in the WEP password, as they would if a digital photo frame were connected to a Wi-Fi router at home.

"But the downside," Miller added, "is high cost and low bandwidth. I think with more and more iPhones, iTouches and other Wi-Fi devices, consumers are gradually getting a lot better at connecting to Wi-Fi."

RMI, which launched its own Home Media Player solution last year, has been already making inroads among the original design manufacturers of digital photo frames in Asia.

RMI's advanced high performance multimedia Alchemy Au1250 Processor offers a turnkey solution for connected digital photo frames with a variety of capabilities including video streaming, wireless connectivity, on-demand content and connectivity to content online.

Noting that RMI, too, is working with a couple of carriers, RMI's Miller said the advantage of moving into this market is that "carriers have good channel and billing relationships [with their customers] that they can leverage."

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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