The future of mobile entertainment is subject to as much speculation as any other nascent industry, and researchers at the Mobile Entertainment Forum this week offered their predictions for the growth and evolution of mobile entertainment.

Mobile entertainment basically refers to applications run on wirelessly networked personal devices, from downloadable games for mobile phones to MP3 players and radio receivers built into mobile headsets

In its white paper Mobile Entertainment Scenarios: Outlook and Opportunities in an Emerging Market, MEF identifies the opportunities and threats facing companies throughout the industry.

"As the market continues to evolve, the technologies, services and business models which will drive the future of mobile entertainment have yet to be defined," said Dr Steffen Leistner, vice president at research firm Booz Allen and head of the MEF's commercial taskforce. Booz Allen predicts the mobile entertainment industry will be worth around €15.4bn by 2005.

If network operators, such as Vodafone or O2, take control, this could pose a major threat to mobile device manufacturers who will be pressured into working directly with the operators in order to succeed. The possibility of this has been linked to the emergence of hotspots, operator-branded devices and flat-fee packages.

But customers may place less importance in networks, choosing to play their devices predominantly offline. If this happened, device manufacturers could be thrown into a more powerful position.

The bid for dominance exists all the way down to the 'end provider', the mobile virtual operators, which will be responsible for marketing, advertising, customer services and, importantly, billing systems. After all no matter how good the services are if the price is too high, mass market potential is eliminated.

Irrespective of which body — network operators, content providers or mobile virtual operators — takes control of the market, its success will depend on the methods of delivery, including bandwidth availability, capacity, transmission quality and security.

The dominance of one group is therefore unlikely, with each stage relying on the next — as with today's broadband technologies. Inadequate networks, poor content and overpricing will make people reluctant to sign up — mobile entertainment operators would do well to keep in mind the deterrents to broadband adoption.