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Tuesday, January 9, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Motorola's calling: It's a mobile world

Seattle Times business reporter

LAS VEGAS — Ed Zander, chairman and chief executive of cellphone giant Motorola, pedaled a bright yellow bicycle with coaster brakes onto the stage for his keynote presentation Monday at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

The bike was equipped with a dynamo attached to a charger for a cellphone that could be used by consumers in developing economies such as India and China.

Zander put in perspective the size of the cellphone market and its potential in parts of the world where wireline phone service is sparse and wireless communications networks are being built instead.

In doing so, he was emphasizing the "international" part of CES while focusing on one of the industry's strongest growth areas: mobile and wireless technology.

There are 2 billion mobile subscribers in the world, Zander said. The growth rate since Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola introduced the first cellular phone in 1983 is accelerating rapidly.

It took 20 years to get to 1 billion subscribers; three years to get to 2 billion, and Zander said the industry will grow to 3 billion in one year.

Last year, Motorola's chief rival, Nokia, said the Internet was boosting mobile technology faster than expected. Nokia moved up its forecast of 3 billion subscribers to 2007 from 2008, adding that the number would reach 4 billion in 2010.

Zander said India and China alone add 11 million subscribers a month.

"In the world today, we have four births per second," he said. "In the mobile world, we sell 25 mobile devices per second."

Americans tend not to realize the impact this is having in the developing world, Zander said.

"[For] most people in world, this is going to be not only your first phone call, it's going to be your first interaction with a computer, and it's going to be your first experience with the Internet," he said.

"Consider: Merchants in Zambia use their phones for banking. Farmers in Senegal monitor their farm prices. Health workers in South Africa use them to update records while visiting patients."

In response, Motorola is building phones and other technologies specifically for these users.

Zander showed off the Motofone, a handset designed in emerging markets and released last summer. It is dust-proof, moisture-resistant and can hold a charge for five days.

The phone's commands are voice-activated for users who can't read. It sports a user-interface called E Ink that can be viewed even in bright sunlight.

Zander said Motorola is experimenting with the type of bicycle phone charger he rode in on, noting there are half a billion bicyclists in China alone.

"This is an incredible technology to connect the unconnected," he said.

Another trend he highlighted is the increasing wireless bandwidth for mobile devices.

Using the technology on most phones today, download times for an MP3 music file are measured in minutes. Over the next three years, with the proliferation of WiMax — wireless broadband networks from companies including Kirkland-based Clearwire — downloads will take about 10 seconds.

"WiMax is happening and it's happening very, very fast," Zander said.

Motorola and Intel invested more than $900 million in Clearwire in May. Motorola also purchased Clearwire's hardware division for $47 million.

As networks become faster, they can support higher-end smartphones, which are like mini-PCs that surf the Web, take pictures and store files.

Nokia claimed Monday it leads the smartphone market with 40 million sold in 2006. It expects the number of smartphones to be 250 million by 2008.

Taking advantage of faster Internet access on mobile devices, Yahoo! launched a search service optimized for their small screens and limited user interfaces.

Yahoo! Go is in a test version on some 70 phones, including several from Motorola, said Marco Boerries, a Yahoo! senior vice president, who announced the service as part of Zander's keynote. It is to be on 400 devices by the end of 2007, he said.

Boerries said the system, including location-aware search, access to e-mail and tie-ins to the Flickr photo-sharing service, is designed to be navigated with as few clicks as possible.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times technology reporter Tricia Duryee contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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