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Telecom 99: Phones morph into computers

October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 11:41 a.m. EDT (1541 GMT)

by Mary Lisbeth D'Amico


As industry pundits from Microsoft Corp's Bill Gates to Oracle Corp.'s Larry Ellison pronounced this the era of wireless communications, the evidence was all over the show floor at Telecom 99 this week.

“Just about every booth here has some kind of mobile phone or communications device, whether you go to the booth of a computer company or a telecommunications company,” said Philip Redman, program manager for wireless and mobile communications at the Yankee Group, based in Boston. “This has really become a mobile communications show.”

This could be remembered as the show where it was hard to tell the telephones from the other handheld devices, as phones metamorphose into stylish devices with computer-like functions and peripherals.

Smart cell phones

Take the new Chatboard launched by L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co, for example. The mini-keyboard can be attached to select models of Ericsson's GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones, making it easier to send e-mail or SMS (short message service) messages. It saves fumbling with the keys on a tiny telephone to spell out words.

The Chatboard comes in a blue plastic carrying case and is compatible with Ericsson's GF 788e, S 868, SH 888, I 888 WORLD, A1018s/sc, R250s, T10s/sc and T18s/sc phones. Users also have access to a personal Web site where they keep sound or photo files for attaching to their messages. The product is being initially rolled out in Europe, and costs "about as much as 2 CDs," according to Jan Ahrenbring, an Ericsson spokesman.

Phones are also being transformed into music players. An especially stylish example is Samsung Electronics' MP3 Phone, a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) phone that doubles as an MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) player.

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Users download digital audio files from their PC via a special cord that they attach to their phone. With 32M bytes of space, the phone stores up to eight songs. It also comes with a stereo ear microphone to listen to the tunes. Currently available in Korea, the MP3 Phone will be brought out as a GSM phone in Europe in the second quarter of next year, according to an employee at the Samsung stand. The phone comes in slim (94 grams, 105 x 45 x 19 millimeters) and standard (120 grams, 105 x 45 x 22 millimeters) sizes. It costs about 10 percent more than a standard mobile, she said.

Also popular at the show were phones that double as organizers. The R380 from Ericsson, for example, folds open to reveal a large touch screen. The dual-band (GSM 900/1800) phone includes features like voice-activated dialing, e-mail, SMS and access to WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) services. WAP is a protocol that lets users receive Web-content optimized for mobile phones. The product will be launched in the first quarter of 2000. Prices are not yet available.

Motorola Inc. was also showing users its Timeport P1088, a dual-band phone that it expects to launch in the first quarter of 2000. The phone combines functions of a personal organizer, and is based on Java in order to make the largest number of Internet-based applications available to end users, Motorola said. Users will be able to synchronize data on the phone with information in a PC.

More immediately available, at least in Europe and Asia, are a variety of new WAP-enabled phones. Nokia Corp. was showing its much-awaited WAP phone, the Nokia 7110. The phone's extra large screen is designed to make it easy for users to view specially-formated Web-based content, which can be downloaded at rates of 14.4 bits per second, Nokia said. In different countries, varying services will be available with the phone. Some will automatically send information to users phones, others can be selected from a PC-like menu. Users can check stock prices, send faxes and e-mail, get news, buy tickets or conduct wireless banking, for example.

The coolest mobile gadgets on display were prototypes that will only become available over the next two years in the third-generation of mobile phones. Phones incorporating standards such as IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications)-2000 will be able to send and receive videos and show colorful graphics. They will also incorporate features such as GPS (global positioning systems), which can display color maps of a user's location, for example. Some functions will start cropping up in phones as early as next year, as technologies such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) are implemented in today's mobile networks. GPRS is a packet switched technology that will speed up data transfer rates on today's digital networks.

U.S. manufacturer Qualcomm Inc. unveiled a prototype of its Qualcomm QCP 3G at the show, a third-generation phone that will feature a color LCD (liquid crystal display) touch panel control, a pop-out back for desktop conference calls and video display, and voice command of all major functions, according to a Qualcomm statement. The QCP handset comes with a lightweight magnesium case with leather trim.

Vendors such as NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. (NTT Do Co Mo), Nokia and Ericsson were also showing funky design concepts for these devices of the future.

NTT, for example, showed a prototype of a mobile videophone that would be worn on the wrist. At the Ericsson stand designers played with different ideas, such as a headset device, an organizer/phone with an sleek-looking foldable keyboard and a space-age looking appliance with an elegant docking station of wood and metal.

Christoffer Andersson, technical expert for 3G Wireless Applications at Ericsson, said he expects companies that are unheard of today to launch completely new types of appliances.

"These (devices) are going to take entirely different forms which incorporate a strong design element," he said.

Marc Ferranti contributed to this report.

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