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cc.GIF (6428 bytes) March 2000


Tom Keating

My Wireless Wishes...

BY Tom Keating

Here at TMC Labs I get to see a lot of communications gear. Everything from standalone unified messaging systems to PC-PBXs, ACDs to predictive dialers, SOHO products to enterprise-wide CRM systems. TMC Labs often gets first crack at a product that is in beta testing, or has just come on the market. In fact, we get so many requests to review products that I often have to turn companies away, or schedule them for a review eight months later. Surprisingly, most vendors dont seem to mind.

In TMC Labs, we get to play with and test all kinds of cool communications products. Some of the products we look at, such as ACDs, probably wouldnt be considered cool to anyone else but us. Perhaps its because were engineers. We find technology fascinating, and we like to tinker with multi-thousand dollar equipment and try to break it (figuratively speaking of course!).

However, there are products that we look at in TMC Labs that are universally cool, such as PDAs and SOHO products. Multi-function next-gen cellular phones with LCD displays, and integrated Internet and e-mail access are pretty cool too. In the February 1999 issue of Communications Solutions (formerly CTI magazine), we reviewed Nokias 9000il Communicator, which provides users with a digital cellular telephone, PDA, Web browser, SMS, and contact manager, plus clients for fax, e-mail, Telnet, and terminal.

In this issue, TMC Labs tested the NeoPoint 1000 cell phone, which includes a large LCD display, paging, voice mail, e-mail, and caller ID with name matching to contacts input into the phone. Check it out in this months TMC Labs section. Also in this months issue, TMC Labs is reviewing the QualComm pdQ, one of the most exciting phones ever to hit the market it comes with a Palm III built into the phone! Despite the price tag (about $800), this product is very cool.

But even these two next-gen cellular phones dont have all the features I want or need in my cellular phone. I have several room for improvement items. To be more specific, I have a wish list for future cell phone designs, which Ill share later in this column.

Currently, DSL and cable modems are the only choices for broadband Internet access, other than satellite Internet access, which has had moderate success. Why not use wireless as the Internet transport medium? Well, first of all, the wireless technology for high-speed data with thousands of subscribers just doesnt exist. Today, there just arent enough unallocated frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum for broadband wireless. However, engineers are working on solving this problem through compression and other engineering tricks.

Eventually, wireless broadband could become a reality. The first generation will undoubtedly be some sort of special antenna or transceiver that you buy and hook up to your PC or to a network to which your PC is connected. However, having to buy a separate antenna for receiving wireless broadband just doesnt make sense to me. Why not use a wireless antenna which many people already have, namely the one on their cell phones?

Essentially, my first wish is that Id like to be able to have a cell phone that has high-speed wireless Internet capabilities, which would rival that of DSL or cable broadband. Of course, this cell phone would need a built-in modem for modulating and demodulating the wireless signals. Currently, most cell phones are lucky to have a 19,200 baud modem, which isnt very fast. If I compare current cable modem technology and apply it to cell phones, we see that cable modems are actually large, cumbersome boxes. Thus, this modem size would not work in a cell phone. New miniaturized high-speed modems will have to be designed into these future cell phones. But when they do miniaturize modems in the future (and they will), essentially my phone will become a broadband wireless transceiver.

Surfing the Internet on a cell phones small colorless LCD display just doesnt cut the mustard when compared to a PCs nice 17-inch or 20-inch monitor. Also, todays cell phones require Web sites that use a special HTML markup language in order for the cell phone to view the Web page. I believe that in the future, Windows CE (which comes in color today) will be incorporated into cell phones, allowing users to use a standard browser, such as Internet Explorer or Navigator, to surf from their phone. It will be much smaller than a regular computer monitor, but at least every Web site should be reachable. As an added benefit, when the person isnt surfing on their phone, the high-resolution display doubles as a television, so you never have to miss an episode of your favorite show!

Once cell phones have high-speed modems capable of transmitting at broadband speeds, the next step is integrating the cell phone with the PC. With the proliferation of USB ports in all new PCs, the high-speed USB port (particularly the new USB 2 standard) could be a perfect choice for integrating with a cell phone. Imagine being able to take your cell phone anywhere, plug in one end of the USB cable into the cell phone and the other into the PC, and voil you have a high-speed Internet connection wherever you go! (Of course roaming charges are extra.)

Forget about paying hotels $1.50 for the first minute of an analog dial-up connection and $0.25 a minute afterwards just for a local phone call. Have you ever gone over a friends or relatives house and become frustrated by their sluggish dial-up connection because you have broadband at home? Well, with my idea, you just pull out your cell phone and plug it into the PCs USB port and make a few software changes. I should also mention that other advantages of a USB connection to cellular phones would be synchronizing contacts, e-mail, and maybe even transferring files onto the cell phone for downloading later.

Ive wanted to get an MP3 player for some time now, but I keep holding off because I know that technology is getting better and prices are coming down, and I want more music storage time than the current MP3 players have. Then I thought, what would be the ultimate MP3 player? Wouldnt integrating an MP3 player into a cell phone be a great idea? Its one less thing to carry; cell phones already have speakers, and often include a headset jack that would be perfect for listening to music. Then when I go to the gym, I dont have to carry an MP3 player, my PDA, and my cell phone I have them all in one easy-to-carry device! MP3 players are already getting smaller and smaller, so certainly I believe that its possible to integrate a cell phone with an MP3 player. Sonys Music Clip is almost the same shape and size as a magic marker. It even packs 64 MB of memory (roughly 64 minutes of music).

Several unified messaging vendors have Web-enabled their products such that you can access your voice messages via a Web browser. These services also allow you to change your outgoing message, call forwarding, and other voice mail settings. This is just a taste of what could come. I see a future when, instead of dialing long-distance into your voice mail system, you just use your cell phones LCD display to navigate through it. Instead of the traditional method of touch-tone keys to navigate the voice mail system, you would use cursor keys on the cell phone to graphically navigate through a list of voice messages, which include descriptions like caller ID, contact name, and length of message, next to each voice message. The voice messages can even be streamed across the wireless network to save on toll charges. This method is really user friendly compared to the archaic method of using the TUI to retrieve old or new voice messages.

I have a nice stereo system in my car. I really dont want to tear it out to install one of those high-tech stereos with GPS or voice-activated directions built in. Instead, Id like to use my cell phone for getting directions. With GPS integrated with cell phones in the future, and Internet access already being incorporated into many cell phones today, it would certainly be possible to pull up MapQuest (a popular Web site for getting directions), and then using text-to-speech technology have the directions read to you as you drive. I also see no reason manufacturers cant incorporate speech recognition capability, so I can drive, and then speak into my cell phone Directions to nearest McDonalds and the phone will automatically submit the request to Mapquest. The possibilities are almost endless.

These are but a few of my ideas for the future of wireless and cell phone technology. Certainly, once technology catches up to my fantasies, this world will be a better place. For now, I invite you to e-mail me your ideas on the future of wireless or communications in general (send to Tom Keating ).

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