Not just a phone anymore

Filed under: News |

Will Choi, a salesperson at Spring Communication’s Cingular store, shows off one of the new smartphones.

As network connections improve and the market becomes saturated, cell phones have undergone a metamorphosis: they do much more than simply make calls.

They’re fashion accessories, mobile offices, Internet connections, cameras. And the latest from the cell phone industry promises more of the same – in ever smaller packages.

Cell phone service now reaches 99.8 percent of the total U.S. population, and 89 percent of the country’s land area, according to the Federal Communications Commission. By 2009, technology experts expect that half of the people on Earth will own a cell phone. The market success is “unprecedented” in the world of consumer electronics, according to British tech analysis firm Portio Research.

“The total number of mobile subscribers worldwide at the end of 2005 grew to 2.129 billion, an increase of 384 million subscribers from the start of the year,” said a study by the research firm. “This figure is expected to increase to approximately 3.964 billion by the end of 2011. In the same time frame, the population of the world is likely to increase from approximately 6.5 billion to approximately 7 billion, meaning that worldwide mobile phone penetration should pass the 50 percent mark some time around the end of 2009.”

So, what’s next for the market? The wireless industry has poured money into network upgrades, more than $41 billion in 2003 and 2004. Wireless companies are focusing on technological innovation to bring new customers, and new customer service policies to keep them.

All four major cell phone companies – Verizon, Sprint Nextel, Cingular and T-Mobile – are working on expanding high-speed networks that allow customers to use e-mail and access the Internet at speeds that are close to home broadband connections. Most phones now use Microsoft Windows technology.

“Microsoft Windows Mobile software gives customers up-to-date access to important business information, enabling them to take action when they are away from their desk,” said Suzan DelBene, corporate vice president for T-Mobile. “The SDA and MDA (two new phones) provide … access to e-mail, as well as the ability to install thousands of applications for productivity or pleasure.”

Cingular and T-Mobile use a new technology platform that makes it easy to access e-mail and other Internet features.

“At Cingular, we use EDGE technology,” said John Kampfe, spokesman for the wireless company. “That network, which is available nationwide – and in 100 international countries – allows people to access corporate e-mail using Windows Mobile, or access the company’s intranet. Sales people can access their inventories or databases, all via their phone.”

The market’s near-saturation in the United States has led major wireless providers to branch out to other services. Cingular now sells Blackberry service, hand-held Palm Pilots, pocket personal computers – and a wireless device that fits into any laptop.

“The card fits into the laptop, and is the same type of SIM card in your phone,” said Will Choi, a salesman at Springs Communications’ Cingular store. “The card accesses the same towers, but allows people wireless Internet connections, wherever they are. If they can use their cell phone, they can use their laptops.”

Newer laptops, released in late 2005 and early this year, have the wireless capability already available – no external cards are necessary, Kampfe said. The Sony and Dell laptops allow people to access the G-4 platform available from Cingular.

The new generation of cell phones isn’t your mother’s mobile phone. These phones can give business people a serious competitive edge. The Blackberry – both a phone and a wireless hand-held device – can send and receive e-mail as quickly as a broadband Internet connection.

While Cingular’s platform is compatible in 170 countries, Verizon remains a solely domestic product. Verizon’s biggest sellers are the Palm Trio 700 and the “V” phone – a cell phone that includes a full QWERTY keyboard for e-mail and text messaging.

“The V phone also comes with a Navigator system,” said Verizon spokesman Bob Kelley. “If you’re traveling in a strange city or just need directions, you can put in where you want to go, and the phone will give you turn-by-turn directions. It’s something pretty cool that we’ve added to this phone. You don’t have to tell it where you are, the phone has built-in GPS connections.”

Kelley said business people – from real estate agents to maintenance workers – buy the Palm Trio 700, a phone and personal digital assistant combination that allows workers to access office computers, using the Windows Mobile platform.

“The backbone of all of this, of course, is the reliability of the system,” he said. “Business people need systems that are reliable and readily available.”

Cingular also offers a phone that comes with its own keyboard. The keyboard folds out, and the phone sits in a cradle in the middle. The 2125 works just like a computer when its user is sitting; but also is a small hand-held mobile phone.

“We have a whole family of pocket PCs,” Kampfe explained. “The new ones have small keyboard that come with cameras and video capabilities. You can shoot video clips and e-mail them – straight from the device.”

Latest phones

Palm Trio 650 – offered by Cingular last summer. The device will allow the user to access email and other office applications.

Blackberry 8700c – Wireless push synchronization of all e-mail and calendar activities, access Microsoft Exchange, Lotus, Novel GroupWise, company’s intranet.

Cingular 2125 Smartphone released earlier this year. High-speed, global wireless communications, Windows Mobile 5.0, Bluetooth support and international roaming for EDGE. Can integrate with Microsoft Office Outlook Mobile and Microsoft Exchange Service, Cingular Xpress mail and MSN Hotmail.

Cingular 8125 Pocket PC. Introduced in February. Offers Edge wireless, PDA with a full keyboard. Full QWERTY slider keyboard, latest Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth support, quad-band international coverage and Edge. Available with camera.

Verizon Palm Trio 700W. Available features: Bluetooth, broadband access, e-mail, picture messaging, QWERTY keyboard, removable memory, speakerphone, voice dialing.

Verizon V Phone, LG9800. Bluetooth, Get It Now, Mobile Web 2.0, MP3 player, VZ navigator, removable memory, V CAST, video messaging, speakerphone, e-mail, picture messaging, text to speech enabled, color screen, voice dialing, QWERTY keyboard.

T Mobile SDA: New Smartphone released in February. Edge capable, international network, come with integrated Wi-Fi. Microsoft Outlook Mobile. MP3 capabilities, 1.3 megapixel camera and video clips. Mini SD memory card. External music shortcut keys.

T Mobile MDA: new Smartphone released in February. Can be used internationally, EDGE capable, Microsoft Outlook Mobile, full QWERTY keyboard. Multimedia features, MP3 player, video and audio player, access wireless email.