HOME Technology 2004
Mobile options ramp up

Phone functions rival handheld PCs
Momentum is mounting for mobile to rival wireline communications with the next generation of cellular networks optimised for multimedia content on smartphones and handheld computers that double as telephones.

Mobile networks are increasingly focused on the upwardly mobile who like to have everything literally at their fingertips, no matter where they are. Field workers are being liberated from the office with real-time access to databases, work scheduling and order taking via laptops or hand held devices.

Home users are being offered a much greater range of entertainment and information as the phone becomes a fashion item, constantly delivering accessories from ring tones and games to information services from news to restaurant and movie guides.

Internet browsing, email, texting and pixting are the essentials but newer phones double as MP3 players, sound recorders and organisers.

More than 300 million mobile phones were sold worldwide in the first half of 2004, with Gartner analysts predicting year-end sales of 650 million units - up more than 35 per cent on the previous year. People upgrading to second or third handsets kept the market strong along with a leading edge multimedia features.

New Zealand has however been sternly criticised for having among the highest costs for landline to cellular calling rates and the Commerce Commission has been looking at ways to get these down.

The rates for exchanging calls between networks have been as high as 27 cents per minute and the Commission is recommending a drop to around 16 cents a minute. It estimates consumers could benefit $185 - $217 million through lower mobile and land-to-mobile charges.

A Ministry of Economic Development report claims New Zealand mobile prices are among the most expensive in the OECD with users paying 46 - 80 per cent above the average.

Meanwhile both carriers are investing millions into 2.5G and 3G cellular networks that take the brakes off mobile capabilities, opening the way for faster data and a host of new services that rival those on broadband internet.

Vodafone is spending about $400 million on its wideband CDMA 3G network which will go love in the main centres during 2005. It currently has a 55 per cent share of the mobile market with 1.6 million customers for its 021 GPRS network which has data speeds of 40-60 kbit/sec.

It plans high speed mobile data services, high-quality music, video clips and full video-conferencing. Vodafone's W-CDMA promises a top speed of 384 kbit/sec although the average will be much lower than that.

Meanwhile Telecom’s new 3G EV-DO (evolution data only), mobile network is rolling out in the main centres. An investment of $40 million is largely an upgrade of its existing 027 CDMA 1xRTT network which offers 80-155 kbit/sec throughput. EV-DO, marketed as T3G, will have a top speed of 2.4 Mbit/sec but average 500 kbit/sec. It will initially focused on business customers for data access through PC cards for laptops and handheld devices.

Telecom plans ‘business and entertainment services including video messaging, film, music and sports clips, information services, television on the handsets, the ability to talk to several people at once and use the phones as a walkie talkie.

Increasingly the phone will become an integral part of the wider wireless network handing off between the home, public networks, hotspots in cafes and the work environment.

However the value of new expensive handheld hybrid devices and the networks that support them is dependent on quality of service, guaranteed access, consistent speed and tarrifing that doesn’t have users sweating about download charges or the cost of pay-per-use services

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