Mobile Majors Work Wireless Magic

MTMegafon showing off its wireless television service for mobile phone subscribers, which it plans to launch in the fourth quarter.
Television via mobile phone, wireless Internet access at the airport, surfing the web from a payphone -- the country has come a long way from its samizdat days.

And all are on display this week at the Russia's premier high-tech convention, Svyaz Expocom-2003.

On Tuesday, it was the country's leading telecom operators that took center stage at Moscow's ExpoCenter, showing off their latest technological achievements and high-end services.

Megafon Moscow unveiled its new video streaming service, which allows mobile phone users to view live television broadcasts or even order their own videos, which can be downloaded from the Internet using General Packet Radio Service technology. Cellular handsets were transformed into monitors displaying music videos from television channel Muz-TV and real-time views of the audience from a nearby camera.

"Video streaming via a mobile phone changes our perception of cellular communications," said Leonid Denisov, general director at Megafon Moscow. "So far, such technology has been related to third generation -- mobile services of the future. Megafon has demonstrated that mobile TV can be implemented on the existing GSM networks."

At the moment Megafon is testing the demo version of the service using Nokia servers. The service is planned for commercial launch in the fourth quarter of the year and the operator is currently negotiating content with several television channels.

Megafon rival Vimpelcom kept with the pace, rolling out its Wireless Local Area Network service, which allows high speed Internet and intranet access, video streaming, wireless video conference and IP telephony for those using notebooks and handheld computers.

"For the first time in the history of Svyaz Expocom WLAN technology is demonstrated not as an exhibit, but as an operating system," said Sergei Avdeyev, a vice president for network development at Vimpelcom.

"We are pleased to be the first cellular operator in Russia to show how this technology can be used in practice."

The service is available for both corporate and individual customers. Corporate clients will be able to use wireless virtual private networks to have access to their companies' intranet resources. Individuals will be able to cruise the Internet at various access points that will be installed at public places such as airports, hotels and business centers. Users will need to have notebooks or handheld computers with WLAN adapters.

Vimpelcom is currently setting up its WLAN network at Sheremetyevo Airport and plans to launch the service commercially next month. And within the next couple of years the company plans to have around a hundred access points, or so-called hot spots.

"WLAN is a new Klondike for telecom operators and the area where we expect rapid business development," said Pavel Borokh, technology development manager at Intel.

While Vimpelcom will offer its customers wireless Internet access, Moscow City Telephone Network in July will install fixed-line payphones that allow users to browse the web and send text and multimedia messages from the street corner, MGTS general director Vladimir Lagutin said.

MGTS will install 60 payphones manufactured by Siemens Elasa, the public telephony division of Germany's giant Siemens Group, by the end of this year. Lagutin said the company would gauge demand for the service and decide on how many more it will install within a few months.

Eventually, Lagutin said, MGTS could pepper Moscow with 1,000 of the cyber-payphones.