Technology '98: The ultimate fashion accessory of the season, Gucci or Motorola?

Smaller, lighter, smarter: according to the mobile phone industry, this is the future of mobile communications.

Stephen Pritchard reports.

The miniature mobile is this year's fashion statement. Mobile phone companies vie with each other to have the smallest handset: Motorola's StarTac; Philips' ultra small, ultra light Genie handset, or Sony's Z1. These phones are smart to look at and easy to carry, and a far cry from the first mobiles, which were closer to a housebrick with an aerial on top.

This year will see a flood of new phone designs. Mobile networks and handset manufacturers both realise that the mobile phone is no longer a staid business tool, but a desirable consumer object. According to David Ball, who heads the UK mobile phone division for manufacturer Siemens, there are as many as eight different types of mobile phone users. Each needs a slightly different handset.

Competition means we will see better phones, too. They will have longer battery life, clearer displays, and more added functions. The peculiar nature of the mobile phone industry in the UK - where phones are subsidised by the networks to the point where they are almost free - means it is hard for makers to compete on price. To win new customers, the phone manufacturers have to appeal in other ways.

Design and looks matters as much as technology. "Aesthetic design will be very important for the consumer," predicts David Ball at Siemens.

"The concept of the wearable phone is very much reality," suggests Jay Chinnadorai, director of new business development at Sony UK. "There will not be one shape. The shape, and the brand, will be as important as the design of the phone. The phone will become part of people's clothing." Mr Chinnadorai predicts that people will choose a phone rather like they choose a watch.

There will still be plenty of places to buy a pounds 10 mobile phone, but the up-market handset will be where the real innovation takes place. "There are people who pay well in excess of pounds 150 for a phone," says Sony's Jay Chinnadorai. "If we can provide phones in that bracket and give them more functionality, there is a market."

Mr Chinnadorai suggests that the up-market phone will move closer to a miniaturised PC. Phones will be able to send and receive electronic mail; some might even give access to the World Wide Web, or information services including local traffic reports. Sony already operates a traffic system using mobile phones in California.

David Ball, at Siemens, expects desktop computer technologies, including video- conferencing, to move on to mobile phones. He expects to see features including clearer, larger and even touch-sensitive displays on mobile handsets; Siemens already sells a GSM phone with a colour display.

Ericsson, the Swedish mobile phone maker, also believes that phones and computers will come closer together. "It is moving towards the idea of a communications device," suggests Alex Rodrigues, marketing director. "In the future, all your work will be done on one device you have in your hand: your banking, making phone calls, your mail." Ericsson is launching a range of handheld computers, or "personal digital assistants" such as its new MC12, which bring computing and mobile phones even closer together. The MC12 has a screen, keyboard and communications software, and hooks up to a mobile with a simple cable.

As phones do more, more people will buy them. The UK is already one of the most "mobile" countries in Europe. Sony expects to see between 12 and 14 million subscribers by the year 2000, against 8 million now. Most of the new mobile users will be consumers, not businesses.

The race to sign up those extra customers should mean competitive charges and innovative handsets. There is, unfortunately, a downside. The networks risk becoming congested.

Again, manufacturers believe they have a solution. Currently, digital mobile phones work at two frequencies: 900 and 1800mhz: Cellnet and Vodafone operate 900mhz networks, and Orange and One2One at 1800mhz.

There is far more capacity at the 1800mhz frequency than there is for GSM. As "space" for GSM users becomes scarce, the networks will support "dual band" phones that can hop on to 1800mhz to make calls.

Motorola already sells a dual band phone to Orange and One2One users, and the company expects dual band to be commonplace within a couple of years. Other makers, including Ericsson, will launch dual band phones this year. For existing GSM users, dual band technology means a better service. For subscribers to One2One and Orange, it means a wider choice of handsets.

Travellers, though, might do well to wait. Tri-band phones, which also work at 1900mhz, are under development. When these come out, either late this year or in early 1999, mobile phone users will at last be able to use one handset in the UK, Europe, and North America.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

    £39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game