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Cell phones that go beyond the ordinary

From an ultra high-end, high-speed data standard to a cheap mobile phone for the masses, wireless companies are going beyond the ordinary. MSNBC's Gary Krakow reports from the 3GSM show.
This is a cell phone? Yep. CSI Wireless has designed "fixed wireless" phones for those who like desk phones but want to dump their wired phone service.
This is a cell phone? Yep. CSI Wireless has designed "fixed wireless" phones for those who like desk phones but want to dump their wired phone service.Csi Wireless

BARCELONA, Spain — Yesterday, I reported on the advent of cellular phone TV and other advancements announced here at the 3GSM World Congress. But all of these new technologies depend on a series of ever-improving cellular networks.

A case in point is the new HSDPA high-speed data standard and what that means for the future of portable audio and video.

Samsung Electronics has launched a new HSDPA handset, SGH-Z560 for use in Europe. It’s not very interesting in its own right, but when you realize that this phone can connect to a cellular network and send/receive data reaching speeds up to 3.6 Mbps you have to be impressed.

OK, maybe your eyes glaze over at numbers and speed claims.  I’ll tell you what it means in real terms. Samsung was demonstrating video streamed over a high-speed HSDPA network, using a Z560 phone as a modem for a laptop computer connected to a good-sized flat-screen TV monitor.

The demonstration was absolutely amazing. The quality of the video on the large screen was pretty fantastic. As wireless technologies improve so will multimedia services which depend on wireless networks for delivery.

The Z560 will be available in Europe in the second half of 2006. No word on when the phone or the supporting services will be ready in North America.

Cell phone for the home
Another interesting announcement came from the people at CSI Wireless who have designed fixed wireless GSM and TDMA phones for the U.S. and world markets. Fixed wireless means that these are cell phones in the shape of desk phones.

CSI unveiled two levels of fixed wireless devices: the Series 405 which are entry-level devices (just phones) and the Series 415 which offer phone services, a speakerphone, Internet access and e-mail via a computer connection.

No professional installation is required — just a connection to AC electric power — and an account with a cellular provider. This design could be a boon for people who live in rural areas too far away from a phone company for wired telephone lines, for those who feel they get a better deal from cell phone providers and for those people who just want to rid themselves of their old-fashioned, wired phone lines.

Mobile for the masses
As cellular devices get more sophisticated, complicated and expensive, there are some designers who spend their time worrying about the millions on this planet that can’t afford a cell phone — or any phone. That’s where Ultra-Low Cost Handsets come into play.

The low cost phones are known as Emerging Markets Handset Program devices or EMHPs. The idea is for companies to make affordable cell phones, ones designed to help millions of the unconnected in emerging markets to gain access to cellular communications. Actually, make that telecommunications of any kind.

For instance, the introduction of EMHP handsets in Algeria has doubled the number of cellular calls made in the country — and has forced other manufacturers to drastically lower prices on their non-EMHP phones and services.

Motorola was showing off their entries into the emerging markets market — the C113 and C113a handsets. They are expected to retail for $40 or so when they go on sale in India. That country is hoping these new phones and low-cost calling plans will help to achieve 100 million subscribers by this time next year.


Don’t be fooled by similar prices you currently see on phones from your local cellular company.  Handsets usually cost carriers a small bundle but they offer them at low or no-cost to get you to subscribe to their service. In return, they make you sign-up for a one to two year contract. So, built into your monthly service charge is the rest of the cost of that handset.

The first EMHP handsets have basic features — voice, SMS messaging and a small black-and-white display. Industry experts expect the low price of these phones to drop over the next few years as advances such as systems-on-a-chip come to market as well as manufacturing costs dropping.

Texas Instruments, the leading maker of mobile phone processors, said this week it would soon offer a single chip that can power an entire entry-level handset, instead of the current two chips now required. TI told Reuters that it was targeting a price for these phones of just above $20 and experts believe that by 2010, the prices for entry-level phones could drop to $18 -- even after including a profit for the manufacturer.

Finally, for the totally connected mobile warrior, I also saw software that makes complicated business communications a whole lot easier.  Microsoft announced what I think is the longest product name in their history: Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile for Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005. All kidding aside, I saw a demonstration of the software and was very impressed. ( is a Microsoft – NBC joint venture.)

Basically, M.O.C.M.F.M.O.L.C.S 2005 makes the most of using Office and Windows Mobile as a communications medium — allowing both the user and whoever wants to contact them an amazing number of options. 

If you’re trying to reach someone, the new software will find the best way to contact the person whether it’s via one of their many phone numbers (home, office, cell, VoIP) or via e-mail (work or personal) or maybe IM. If you’re the person being contacted, you can decide who will reach you — and whether they will reach you in real time or some other time.

I’m oversimplifying this. It is a terrific business tool which allows both ends of a contact to tailor their response to a particular time and situation. Communicator Mobile is expected to be available for download for Live Communication Server customers within the next two months.