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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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 VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

    £32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot