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Mobile giants face reality at 3GSM

By Pia Turunen

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CANNES, France (CNN) -- Visitors to the annual mobile industry's trade show 3GSM in the southern French resort of Cannes are greeted with reality and a touch of cautious optimism.

The five-day fair, which opens on Monday, brings together the biggest names in the mobile industry, including the CEOs of SonyEricsson and Orange.

And big names like Nokia, Ericsson and Intel are all expected to make key announcements during the 3GSM World Congress.

But in 2003 gone are the heady days of GSM fever and boyish enthusiasm.

Back in the late 1990s mobile firms promised users always-on, colourful Internet access from the handset. But the instead of PC style Web experience, users got unreadable text with regular service outages.

And the Internet bubble burst in early 2000 forcing tech firms to face harsh realities.

The downturn has made the mobile industry take stock, according to Gordon Saussy, CEO of mobile infrastructure firm Megisto, and one of Monday's keynote speakers.

"This year's conference is going to see more pragmatic approach to mobile business. The industry has matured and is more focused on driving up revenues and new service opportunities.

"I think the show will be mostly about hard core reality -- with a little bit of optimism in sight."

The show has been running since 1996 and delegates have witnessed the industry's ups and downs.

One regular attendee said: "Few years back, in the tech heyday, mobile technology like WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) promised to do stuff like browsing the Net from your handset. And you believed all the hype. But then again, you could have as well believed the moon was made of green cheese."

This year's show promises its 24,000 attendees a hype-free fest, according to organisers. "The industry is here to solve problems, showcase new ideas and focus on practical aspects of the mobile business," said a spokeswoman.

Hot topics include smartphones, picture messaging and mobile commerce. But even the humble text message (SMS) -- now 10 years old -- will still feature strongly.

"The popularity of SMS is a great indication of the future of mobile messaging," said Saussy.

"It can show us what mobile data can really do and how users will take to it. And now that the first batch of camera phones are out there, we can start to evaluate the user experience."

One of the more controversial topics is going to be the emergence of WLANs (Wireless Local Area Network) technology which is often billed as the challenger to the third generation (3G) technology.

Saussy added: "There is a lot more potential in WLANs and we will see lots of different visions during the five days."

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