HOME Technology 2005
Humble home phone transformed
Cordless digital brings liberty
While a flood of technology is turning our homes into nodes on the global entertainment network and equipping individuals to be on-line ‘anytime, anywhere’, the humble household telephone is often forgotten.

While we’ve been concentrating on wiring up the home for multimedia, the pioneering device that gave us dial tone in the first place has been undergoing some changes of its own. Cordless phone options ranging from the sublime to the incredulous are rapidly making wall-cabled, vanilla coloured handsets redundant.

And the same technology that bought us access to the web and email, is further transforming our home communications through voice over IP (VoIP) or internet telephony (IP telephony). Whether you’re linking directly over the internet or subscribing to a service from a carrier or ISP it means cheaper phone calls nationally or globally.

This also opens up possibilities for your PC to become a kind of telephone exchange, re-routing calls to your cellphone or other numbers where you might be located. IP is revolutionising the business market and already there are systems available for the home market. Samsung product manager Dave Thompson, says the new SOHO units selling for under $2000 (two handsets, base station and access points) doubles as an 802.11 wireless hotspot, connecting to fast internet to your notebook or PC.

The cordless handsets (up to eight) can to be used up to 200 metres distance. Incoming callers are instructed by voice message to select the called party from their keypad. The units work with existing analogue dial tone or connect over the internet to anyone else with an IP phone or take advantage of a VoIP service from an ISP or carrier.

Uniden general manager Ross Kirkland says the modern cordless phone has become a digital device that can transfer calls between handsets and act as an intercom, an answering machine or even record conversations.

Up to 10 handsets can operate off a single base station and you can wander around the property with the phone, or if you have Bluetooth connection a hands free earpiece and microphone will do. Phones are even starting to appear with colour screens, and in the near future videoconferencing between internal handsets or out into the wide world will become commonplace.

Kirkland says the market for cordless phones is ridiculously competitive. "That’s why they’re so cheap. Digital cordless phones used to sell for $400 three years ago and now you can get the same thing for $99." The purchase decision is however a little more complex. In the old days everyone used the same old analogue technology but now there are five different ‘standards’, each with their own strength.

It pays to know what you are in for. At the entry level are basic 2.4GHz analogue cordless handsets that still suit most users, then there’s the European 1.8GHz DECT (digitally enhanced cordless technology) system, of relatively inexpensive phones with smaller handsets and limited coverage geared for ‘high density living’.

Next up the range, for Uniden anyway, is the longer range W/DECT or 2.4GHz wideband system. Long range digital spread spectrum phones also use the 2.4GHz band and are capable of working 1km in line-of-sight or 400-500 metres in typical situations. This band is however getting crowded with microwave ovens, wireless networks, baby monitors and wireless hand controllers for PlayStation and Xbox. The latest release 5.8GHz Uniden Elite Series of cordless flip phones ($179 - $350) operates in a band where there’s less clutter. It operates up to 600 metres, and while they’re relatively expensive at the moment that price will come down.

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