HOME Technology 2002
Cellphones are sexy again
Wireless network carriers are luring us into a mobile multimedia future where superphones double as personal digital assistants (PDAs), internet terminals, MP3 players, business card scanners and cameras.

The mobile phone market levelled for a while when vanilla phones and basic communication was all Telecom and Vodafone had to offer but now they’ve taken their digital networks up a notch or two and found dozens of ways to add value.

Essentially text messaging has started a chain reaction. After a stalemate there’s now an agreement in place to exchange txt messages between networks. Everywhere you go there are people txtg each other – it’s not only a new language, it’s a new revenue stream at 20 cents per pop. For example there were 260,000 texts sent as part of a Telecom promotion in the first two days of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Phone users can also subscribe to entertainment, weather, sports results, horoscopes, news, games and mobile chat services.

The latest craze is pxtg or sending images captures from digital cameras across the networks at 50 cents a time on specialized phones which link to a PC card or digital camera. With this capability you can send an image from a cellphone to an email address anywhere in the world.

A couple of years ago standard phones had dropped so low in price that everyone could afford one, they were even being given away by the networks to encourage subscriptions. Now cellphones are trendy again and every effort is being made to encourage users to move up to Telecom’s CDMA 027 and Vodafone’s GSM 021 (029 to TelstraClear customers) next generation digital networks.

Locally cellphone mobile penetration is well over 60 per cent, up from only 10 per cent back in 1995 and expected to skyrocket possibly to 90 per cent by 2005. Both major carriers will tell you they lead the market – Telecom claims 1.3 million, Vodafone 1.2 million.

Call plans are similar across both networks – the most popular is a monthly fee of $35 for 200 off-peak call minutes and a two years commitment or a pre-paid offering requiring regular $20-$50 top ups.

To graduate to the smart new services of course your need a new phone. The phones are smaller, smarter and sexier and we’re told an indispensable part of our lives as we seek closer contact with family members, business associates and customers wherever we are.

The new generation a WAP (wireless application protocol) phones are not only functional they’re a fashion statement coming in a rainbow of shades and patterns with snap on bodies and endless accessories. There are about 20 different models from Kyocera, Nokia, Panasonic Alcatel and others ranging in price from $250 - $2500.

For a phone that has all the bells and whistles - snap on camera, fax, email, SMS (short message service) web browsing and an integrated PDA (personal digital assistant) you currently pay about $2000. However lower cost smart phones ($800 and under) are on the way from Ericsson and others.

Things to look out for when buying a phone include battery life and whether it has the connections to enable you to link to your laptop or handheld computer. Having one device with a hands-free kit with a headphone and mic attachment (about $50) makes a real difference and can save you juggling several devices on the run..

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