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
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Life and Style
An Internet security expert has warned that voice recognition technology needs to be more secure
techExperts warn hackers could control our homes or spend our money simply by speaking
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    1st Line Service Desk Analyst

    £27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

    £18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Progressive Rec.

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style