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RealNetworks Paving Way For Mobile Streaming

The streaming-media pioneer has formed an alliance with Symbian to encourage handset makers to test applications that could run on RealMedia Mobile.
Streaming-media powerhouse RealNetworks Inc. has forged an alliance with Symbian Ltd., a maker of operating systems for mobile phones, with an eye on the nascent mobile streaming market.

The relationship gives RealNetworks a window into a consortium of handset makers while providing Symbian with a key tie to a major supplier of digital entertainment content. Both companies acknowledge that the potential for mobile multimedia applications is contingent upon the rollout of next generation wireless networks, commonly referred to as 2.5G and 3G.

Symbian, which was created in 1998 by handset makers Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson, and Psion, will supply developers with a so-called "emulator" that will let them easily test the way mobile media applications run on RealNetworks' mobile media player, called RealPlayer Mobile. The thinking is that Symbian's owners then will license RealPlayer Mobile for inclusion in future handsets. In fact, one Nokia model, the 9210 Communicator, already is available in Europe running on the Symbian operating system with RealPlayer Mobile built into it.

RealNetworks, which already has wireless agreements with Nokia Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc., is wise to establish itself in the wireless arena, says Ragen MacKenzie analyst Jim Reynolds. But Reynolds is skeptical that streaming-media applications will experience much success on 2.5G networks that will offer bandwidth of about 30 to 40 Kbps, about the same as most dial-up PC modems. "People are trying all sort of things and then waiting to see what sticks," Reynolds says of the race for 2.5G supremacy. He adds, however, that streaming will be a driving force behind the rollout and adoption of 3G technology, which will offer bandwidth as high as 300 Kbps.

Both RealNetworks and Symbian acknowledge the limitations of 2.5G and admit they are more focused on 3G, especially when it comes to streaming video. But Peter Zaballos, director of wireless marketing for RealNetworks, says 2.5G technology will be ideal for streaming audio. "In a 2.5G world, audio is probably the application that will drive most of the usage." Symbian exec Paul Cockerton says it's crucial that manufacturers have applications ready once next-generation networks are in place. "This is all laying a foundation for what's a year or two away."