mango black.jpgSo,
you thought China's mobile phone industry specialised in low-cost
look-alike phones? Think again. On the left, we have the catchily named
E2831 from the equally catchily named E28, a small manufacturer based in Shanghai.

Despite its obvious good looks, the E2831 would have probably passed
unnoticed among the countless others on display at last week's 3GSM
trade show in Barcelona if it wasn't for the fact that its a dual-mode
Linux-based phone.

Dual-mode, in this case, means that the phone will work on GSM
networks — all four frequency bands — just like any other phone. But
if you are in range of Wi-Fi hotspot, the phone magically converts into
an IP phone so your phone calls go free of charge via the internet
rather than over the mobile network

There has been a lot of talk in the industry about the prospects for
this concept of fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and a few operators,
such as BT in the UK, have actually launched commercial FMC services.

But most FMC handsets that EngagingChina has seen
tend to be clunky and unappealing, and have limitations compared to a
regular cellphone. E28's phone, by contrast, is as stylish as a
high-end cellphone and has similar ease of use, talk time, size and
weight.

e28.jpgThe only drawback is the device's cost — around $250. E28's CEO Roger Kung (pictured right) told EngagingChina
he thought the relatively steep price was justified because the handset
is in effect two devices in one: a fully-featured smartphone combined
with a device that that can be used to surf the internet or make VoIP
calls on Wi-Fi networks.

The most obvious market is the business traveller who can use the
VoIP capabilities to make calls via WiFi networks in airport lounge,
cafes and the like and so avoid paying sky-high roaming fees. Other
potential users include exchange students, migrant workers and other
who regularly use their mobile phone outside their home country.

EngagingChina remains to be convinced that there is a substantial
market for FMC devices like this. However, Kung believes the time is
ripe and says interest is growing all the time.

There are three clear markets: VoIP service providers, ISPs who want
to offer an FMC service, and mobile operators — we have already
signed Taiwan Mobile. But when we look closer at this device, we see
that it can support five or six new business models. “

Can a small company like E28 really compete with the giants of the
phone industry? Kung argues it can if it sticks to niche opportunities
and keeps costs down. All E28's phones are Linux-based, a factor that
has “given us a lot of advantages” as it lowers software development
costs.

The company employs around 250 people and the manufacturing is done by Taiwan's Inventec, which has a minority stake in E28.

Kung is an interesting guy, passionate about Linux yet with
extensive experience in the mainstream mobile phone industry, mostly at
Motorola where in the 1990s he helped transform of China into a global
manufacturing centre for the US firm. He then retired from Motorola and
founded E28 in 2002.


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