REDMOND, Wash., March 22, 2001 — While many people continue to wade through a maze of copper wires and fiber optics and wonder what radio waves really mean to their lives, Microsoft has led the way in developing technology for a wireless world. Recently, Microsoft announced that Ericsson has selected Microsoft Windows Media to deliver digital audio and video to its wireless phones. This week at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany, Ericsson unveiled the first step in integrating Windows Media Audio and Video support , demonstrating a new prototype adapter, which, when added to the Ericsson R520 handset, can play back personal music collections and streamed Internet radio using Windows Media Audio.
Earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the Windows Media Player for
the first public demonstration of Windows Media Audio playback on a mobile phone.
To get a better sense of Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to empower customers with software that works with PCs, televisions, telephones and other devices, PressPass spoke with Jonathan Usher, group product manager in Microsoft’s Digital Media Division.
What does the Ericsson/Microsoft collaboration and the “Stinger” phone demonstration mean for the industry?
Usher: These two announcements really build on the progress that we’ve already made in the last year in the wireless space. Key industry leaders like NTT DoCoMo, Texas Instruments and now Ericsson are choosing Windows Media as they help pioneer richer experiences on mobile phones. In terms of wireless digital media, we’re still in the very early stages of this market. It’s going to take a number of years for new digital media services like downloading music or watching short videos on mobile phones or other wireless devices to become as common as listening to music, watching streaming video or shopping on the Internet with a PC is today. While it’s going to take some time for these new services to roll out, the rapid progress made by Windows Media with the industry is recognition that we have wireless-ready digital media technology — today. Windows Media innovations in audio and video quality, combined with digital rights management, can enable these new services as faster wireless networks emerge over the next few years.
Our focus and success in the consumer electronics market in the last two years offer a foreshadowing of how we plan to focus on wireless devices in the next year. We were successful in getting over 60 different devices supporting our format in the last year, and wed obviously like to repeat that success in the wireless industry.
PressPass: Who are some of the other partners using Microsoft technology for their wireless devices?
Usher: NTT DoCoMo of Japan is another company that’s using Windows Media in a wireless world. Ericsson is the first major handset manufacturer to announce support for Windows Media in a portable handset. Ericsson will be integrating Windows Media Audio, Video and Digital Rights Management support in future multimedia handsets, which will be available in Europe, Asia and the U.S. These handsets will be designed to take advantage of new high-speed wireless network technologies like GPRS [General Packet Radio Service, which permits faster Internet access and improved mobile technology through continuous connectivity — Ed.] and UMTS [Universal Mobile Telecommunications System — Ed.] as carriers of digital media services. However, we are working with many others, so stay tuned. We are focused on making the licensing and integration of our technology as easy as possible for these partners.
PressPass: Can you speak more on the Windows Media Player for the “Stinger” phone?
Usher: The smart phone platform, code-named “Stinger,” was unveiled in February. Windows Media Player for Stinger allows you to play digital music on your mobile phone and get all the benefits of the quality and size advantages of Windows Media Audio to Stinger users. Windows Media Audio effectively doubles your music storage compared to MP3, because we can offer CD-quality music in half the size of MP3. The Windows Media Player supporting both Windows Media Audio and Video will be a key feature of future versions of Stinger.
This feature is essential to what the “Stinger” phone is doing in bringing a lot of PC-like capabilities or PDA (personal digital assistant) functionality, to the cell phone. We’re seeing an amalgamation of productivity activities and entertainment activities being brought together with the mobile phone. We’re giving people a multi-purpose device with which they can do everything from email — browsing the Web and even listening to favorite music on one device — instead of having to juggle a PC, a phone and portable audio player.
PressPass: Where are we in terms of the so-called wireless revolution with multimedia?
Usher: We’re at the very early stages. We’re seeing glimpses of how things could emerge, but unfortunately, the United States is at somewhat of a disadvantage because our networks are not as fast and they’re somewhat behind the times, relative to Europe and Asia. You can get a glimpse of the future in Japan. They are taking the leading role in offering different Internet services to today’s cell phone users.
In December 2000, NTT DoCoMo Inc. launched the first commercial service that uses Windows Media to deliver streamed audio and video to cellular phones via a high-speed Personal Handyphone System (PHS) (2G networks). These kinds of new Internet-based services will enable consumers to send and receive personal digital audio and video and access downloaded and streamed digital music, Internet radio and short subject video clips like movie trailers, news clips, financial information and weather reports. You’re going to start seeing these kinds of services spill over, into Europe and also into the United States.
PressPass: What are some of the important factors that ultimately will determine how this technology develops?
Usher: Well, those are tied to the companies that have really proven themselves in the Internet space. I think there’s a school of thought by some in the industry that the wireless world is somehow a whole new ballgame — that the technologies for delivery of digital media have to somehow be redesigned from the ground up for wireless delivery. But in fact, we think that the technologies that prevail in the Internet space today will be the technologies that predominate in the “next generation” wireless world.
Why? Fundamentally, the same rules apply in terms of what content providers want. 1) They want tested and mature integrated digital rights management to protect their content and enable viable business models, and they need it for both audio and video; 2) They want to offer the best quality audio and video in the smallest files size and bandwidth; 3) They want to maximize reach; they want to encode their content once and be able to reach the broadest range of devices, whether it’s PCs, TVs, new set-top boxes, CD players, portable devices, or wireless handsets and PDAs; and 4) They want a comprehensive end-to-end solution.
These requirements will not change — wireless is just going to be an additional Internet access pipe for content owners. They are not going to want to develop a completely separate infrastructure for wireless delivery. They are going to want one infrastructure that can ideally deliver both.
The kind of services that we’re talking about is the ability to not only get your music downloaded, or be able to listen to Internet radio, or even to be able to put your music collection on one device. It’s also about being able to see short-subject video, like news clips if you want to receive CNN or Reuters or MSNBC — you could get a news update on the hour, for example, and have that play on your wireless phone or even a pocket PC-like device that has a wireless connection to it. Those are some of the things that are developing.
PressPass: What is the role Microsoft technology plays in the wireless space?
Usher: I think it’s very important in that we’re the only ones out there who really have a combination of offerings of not only the best quality audio and video, but also an integrated digital rights management solution for both of those media. That’s one of the reasons why Ericsson selected Windows Media.
We’re also focused on enabling this idea of “my media anywhere” and enabling people to play back either in download, or through streaming, the media they want any time, any place, on any device. We’re focused on the wireless technologies that Microsoft is developing here, like the Stinger phone, as well as working with all these industry partners, like Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo, to ensure that Windows Media offers the maximum reach in the wireless world for content providers.
PressPass: What is Microsoft’s vision for some of the practical applications of Windows Media and wireless devices?
Usher: Microsoft’s vision is that you can actually have a device that allows you to browse the Internet much like you browse the Internet with your PC today — but youd be able to get information quickly while youre on the go.
For example, lets say I’m just coming out of a late afternoon meeting. It’s Friday, and I could be walking down the street and decide, “Hey, maybe I should call my wife and see if she wants to go to a movie tonight.” Then I go to my cell phone and actually get onto the Internet to find a movie theater. I can check out what’s playing, and then use Windows Media to get a video preview of that movie’s trailer and see if it’s a movie we’d like, or if it’s OK to take the kids. Then, I call my wife with that same device and say, “Hey, ‘Cast Away’ is playing.” Maybe we can actually purchase tickets online, too, and have them waiting at the door of the theatre when my wife and I arrive from different directions.
Another scenario: I’m looking for a restaurant in a city I dont really know. Using my cell phone, I’m able to access the Internet and go to guides like citysearch.com and find restaurants. I could then even download an audio review, or see a video of what the place looks like.
Or take people who track news carefully and want to know the late-breaking news. They can subscribe to services that automatically deliver the latest news updates to their device.
All of this is going to unfold over the next two- to three- years at the earliest. It’s really dependent on what they call 3G networks, in order to have that kind of really rich media experience that I’m talking about. But we will see sort of an interim step — the 2.5G networks. It’s already begun to emerge in Japan, and allows a download and play scenario, where people feed video to you and then you play it after it’s come to your device. The same goes for music. The other idea is that you now have the ability to listen to your favorite radio station. No matter where you’re at, you can get Internet radio and listen to it through your cell phone.
PressPass: Who are you trying to reach in terms of audience?
Usher: Much of what I describe above will obviously be most attractive to busy professionals who travel a lot and need to have maximum convenience and have high demands for personal productivity. However, there are broader consumer audiences that could also emerge — more and more families use cell phones and like to listen to digital music, for example.