. On Monday, Microsoft filed a mystery application with the FCC for an enigmatic wireless device that could be used to talk over the Internet. Sounds like a VoiP device, right?
Not really. The device is described as being used for “consumer broadband access and networking,” which doesn’t sound like vanilla VoIP to me. Microsoft goes on to say that the device would use OFDM as its communications protocol, not WiFi or Bluetooth. Well, why not? The standard OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) is a modulation scheme that is used widely in upcoming 4G standards of the future. But with wireless access gaining momentum, and the all-around arms race for bandwidth, 4G starts to make sense, in a crazy, crazy kind of way.
The idea of a next-gen, high-bandwidth capable phone sounded to these ears like the Zune Phone, so we did some poking, called some sources, and waded into the wonderful world of Zune. One thing led to another, and we’ve determined that there is a whole lot more going on at Bear Creek in Redmond than we figured.
With 3G on the rise, 4G is still the far future. With popular providers like T-Mobile still struggling to put out their 3G networks, anything beyond is sci-fi. A little digging, however, and we found this press release from August of last year, in which Sprint/Nextel announced its plans to build out a 4G network based on the IEEE 802.16e mobile WiMax standard. The 802.16 standards use OFDM, the exact same modulation protocol as the Microsoft device in the FCC filing.
Beginning to get the picture, yes?
If this all fits together, it looks like MS is working on a mobile WiMax-enabled Zune Phone, which would have download speeds of up to 2Mbps, fast enough for the Xbox-to-Zune streaming we’ve heard about, and fast enough for just about anything else the Zune Phone might be used for.
So now that we know that the Zune Phone is real, and that it’s in development, what else can we say about it? Tons.
The first real news is that we can expect to hear an announcement from Redmond about it before March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, at which time we should learn the name of the device. At the same time, we should also learn other launch specifics, and here’s where it gets incredibly juicy; our source says that, pending FCC approval, the specter-like Zune Phone will hit the streets sometime in May, a full month before the iPhone.
Our source says that an iPhone competitor has been in the works for a while, and the idea of branding it as part of the Zune ecosystem, from the brown color through the interface, came as a recent decision as a response to Apple’s iPhone. The source didn’t go into details about features, as they don’t know specifics—they’re not yet all finalized. But there is one thing our source says will not only separate it from other music phones, but from iPhone as well.
Without a doubt, the biggest root of contention with the Zune users isn’t the hardware (which is very good) or the marketplace (which is likewise awesome), but the lack of other users to share music with. The WiFi sharing capabilities were the unique feature that was supposed to set the Zune apart, but unless you had another user in the area with sharing turned on, it was wasted battery, even in airports or Midtown Manhattan. (I’ve still yet to find a single person to share with. – Blake)
The Zune Phone remedies this by allowing you to share music not via WiFi, but via WiMax, so that anyone on your friends list who is online can sample your music, and vice versa. By using the mobile WiMax network, you can be in New York and your friend can be in San Jose and you can send him that Shins song you like.
By taking the proximity limitations from an otherwise sound idea and reversing them macro-syle, Microsoft opens up the Zune experience to everyone, making the ecosystem reach from coast-to-coast. The Social, as they say, goes national. We love the idea, as it really frames the concept of portable social networking in a wide, wide light.
This is a lot of information, and the reader should keep in mind that any part, if not all of it could change, as from what we know, the Zune group is just being brought up to speed on the specifics of the device. Our sources are saying that some of the hardware has been in development for quite awhile, and that the idea of making it a Zune device is relatively new.
With the iPhone having been in the rumors stage for almost two years, it makes sense that MS would have started a response as a contingency. Now that iPhone is out, and Redmond knows exactly what it’s up against, it’s an relatively easier process to finish an alternative, and bringing it to the Zune team and its Gen-Y marketing is the icing on the cake.
Of course, much of this is conjecture, but it’s logical. What’s more, our sources have never let us down and are from diverse backgrounds involved with Zune from the get-go. This is a well-thought-out response to iPhone, works perfectly with MSN Live Spaces, as well as Xbox.
We’re not entirely sure yet how much of this is going to hit, but it’s on our radar, and we’re guessing that now it’s on yours, too.
Zune Phone hits FCC? [Market Watch]