Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mobile Codes Consortium Takes Shape

Leading mobile communications companies meet in London on Tuesday to consider a plan that would help turn mobile phones into personal barcode readers – a move that will stimulate the first big mobile-driven advertising market.

By pointing a camera phone at special 2D barcodes (Datamatrix, QR, and Aztec codes) printed on advertisements or product packaging, users would be able to find out more information or instantly download coupons or other marketing offers, supporters of the initiative say.

Though already common in Japan and South Korea, the use of mobile phones to read 2D barcodes remains rare elsewhere.

Progress has been held back by the lack of common technology that would let any camera enabled phone read any type of 2D barcode, and then complete the necessary routing needed to link back to the relevant information on the web, according to backers of the London initiative.

Tuesday’s meeting, prompted by an alliance between technology and marketing giants Hewlett-Packard and the UK's Publicis Groupe, has been called to try to promote standards in this area. Companies due to attend include Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom, said Tim Kindberg, an HP researcher and founder of the Mobile Codes Consortium.

However, other companies involved in the field say signs of strong consumer adoption of the technology in recent months in Japan and South Korea has stimulated a rash of experiments elsewhere in the world that is likely to make the technology widespread, regardless of the standards push.

In one of the widest-ranging initiatives to date, DuPont last week said it would make 2D barcodes available on the cans, bottles and many other types of packaging that it supplies to consumer product companies around the world.

Thanks to early work by carriers such as DoCoMo in Japan and China Mobile, “there are already some pretty basic standards that everyone can live by”, said Scanbuy CEO Jonathan Bulkeley, whose technology is being used by DuPont.

However, Mr Kindberg said the more competitive mobile communications markets that exist in other countries such as Europe and North America make it harder for agreement on technology to emerge in these places. “It’s been on the verge of happening for some time now – the technology is there, but the problem is the fragmentation in the market.”

The HP/Publicis group, known as the Mobile Codes Consortium, hoped to reach basic agreements on technology within a year, he added.

The widespread use of 2D barcodes to make many objects “internet-enabled” would have applications far beyond advertising, said Charles Fritz, chairman and founder of NeoMedia Technologies, whose qode and Lavasphere technology is being used by HP and Publicis.

By making it easy to find information on any object, it would create an “internet of things” that would create extensive links between the physical and electronic worlds, he added.

Word on the street was that there were 22 parties at the MC2 meeting this past Tuesday consisting of Carriers, OEM's, and technology companies such as Vodafone, France Telecom, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, Hutchison Whampoa, Telecom Italia, and Cingular just to name a few. With such predominate backing from these 22 deeply involved parties, MC2 will certainly set the global standards for mobile smartcode dissemination.

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