For the last couple of years cel phone handset makers have been promising a new generation of telephones that offer video conferencing, high speed data and a host of other space-age functions that will supposedly make our lives better. These have all been nothing but promises - until now.
With the launch of trial services on NTT DoCoMo's third generation (3G) network in Japan on May 30 and the launch late last year of high-speed data services (so-called 2.5G services) on several South Korean networks, the first of a new generation of cel phones are now finally reality.
NTT DoCoMo is offering the 4,000 people that will take part in its four-month service trial a choice of two handsets or a PC Card data modem.
The most impressive of the two handsets comes from Matsushita Electric Industrial, better known by its Panasonic brand name. The P2101V includes a video camera and allows for on-the-move video conferencing. The camera is almost hidden away but can be spotted in the hinge between the two halves of the clam-shell style telephone handset.
The second of the two DoCoMo handsets is from NEC. The N2001 is much more like current generation I-mode handsets but also supports the 384k bit-per-second, high-speed data service when hooked up to a computer. Like other I-mode handsets, the telephone has a large, color LCD (liquid crystal display) and, when accessing I-mode, will use a 64k-bps data channel - more than six times faster than the current service.
The PC Card modem P2401 is designed for people who want to send and receive large amounts of data while on-the-move or away from the office and is manufactured by Matsushita. The all-in-one card has everything needed to access the network and does not require to be connected to a telephone.
A hint at which type of handset might prove to be more popular in the future could be seen in the applications from users for places on the trial service. Limited to just 4,000 people, DoCoMo said it received 147,000 applications to join the service with 60 per cent of people asking for Matsushita's video conferencing cel phone. The NEC model was requested by 30 percent of people, while 10 percent of applicants asked for the PC Card modem.
In South Korea, 2.5G cellular services were launched late last year although the first generation of handsets were little more than voice handsets with high speed data support. The CDMA2000 network was built on top of the second generation CDMA network and offers data transmission and reception at up to 144k bps.
Now, Samsung Electronics has launched the first commercial handset that takes advantage of these speeds for video transmission. The telephone has a 2-inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) screen that can display up to 200,000 colours and can support both video-on-demand and audio-on-demand.
An MPEG-4 video decoder and stereo music player are built-in to facilitate the latter functions. Samsung imagines network service providers will soon begin offering databases of video and audio for users of the telephone.
In text mode, the telephone can display up to 12 lines of text and a Windows user interface allows users to edit the telephone directory, which can hold up to 2.400 entries. Through the PC link, users can also transfer and download icons, images and ring melodies into the telephone.