CEO: Telecom Italia to develop ‘fascinating’ phones

One of Europe’s biggest fixed-network operators is following the lead of its wireless counterparts in demanding a greater say in the design and service features of cordless phones and other wireless devices used in the home.

Phones, smart phones, videophones and a range of wireless devices, including wireless LAN-enabled personal digital assistants (PDAs), will be “absolutely crucial to the success of our services and will help drive our growth moving ahead,” said Riccardo Ruggiero, chief executive officer (CEO) of Telecom Italia SpA, speaking Tuesday at the Broadband World Forum in Venice. “We are developing an entirely new family of products that will be fascinating to use.”

With its Live multimedia service launched nearly two years ago, Vodafone Group PLC sent a signal to handset suppliers that the U.K. mobile phone company intended to have more say in the look and feel of new handsets, including the ability to slap its brand on both the hardware and software. Since then, other European mobile operators, including Orange SA and T-Mobile International AG, have also tweaked their relationships with handset vendors, which have traditionally controlled the brand and dictated the services.

The move in Europe to have more say in the technical features of phones mirrors the model in Japan where operators, such as NTT DoCoMo Inc., have been telling vendors for sometime what they want to see in handsets.

Telecom Italia’s new phones will have many functions similar to those of mobile handsets, such as Short Messaging Service (SMS), e-mail, incoming caller identification, phone book and colour display, according to Ruggiero.

In addition to phones, the Italian operator aims to supply other products to home and small-office users, such as gateway systems to connect home wire-based or wireless LANs, entertainment systems and more, according to Ruggiero. In the fourth quarter of this year, the company plans to launch a range of new products and services targeting the digital home market, he said.

The keen interest in devices, especially in the home gateway, makes sense, according Anton Schaaf, a member of the group board at the information and communication network division of Siemens AG. “If operators only deliver the pipe into the home, they’re not in control of any of the TV and PC services at the other end,” he said. “To deliver services they can control and later bill for, they really need to have home gateway systems in their product portfolios.”

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