Voice, data disintegration

The new Ericsson cellphone is about the size of my thumbnail, and when I first answered a call on it I swallowed the damned thing, which made for an entertaining trip to the emergency room.

I was going to write about Telecom's astonishing comments about the slow uptake of broadband, but frankly I've had enough negativity this week. Instead I'd like to ramble on about cellphones.

Ericsson has just sent me a prototype T66 to play with. I unwrapped the baggie that it arrived in and nearly threw the phone out with the bubblewrap. It was only my childish enthusiasm for bubble popping that enabled me to find the cellphone. All things considered, it's about the size of my thumbnail, and when I first answered a call on it I swallowed the damned thing, which made for an entertaining trip to the emergency room.

All right, so it's not that small -- it's slightly longer than a credit card, weighs about the same as three grapes (seedless, without the spider) and has a cute function where it tells you how many hours of battery life it has left (as I write it has 100 hours of standby, two hours and 13 seconds of talk time). Because it's a pre-release model it also tells me today's date is September the 34th, which is, I feel, something that should be built into all phones. This isn't some low-spec wonder, either. It has a vibrating battery, caller groups, about 10,000 different ring tones and the world's smallest buttons.

Which brings me, thankfully, to the point behind this column: form factor. This whole convergence of voice and data is leading to a diverging world of phones. As we ready ourselves for the 2.5G networks offering decent speeds, supposedly at the end of this year, and as these phones shrink in size, business users will reach a point where they need two devices -- a voice phone and a data phone. I mean, who really wants to surf the net or even read email on the tiny screens we have today? Do away with them, I say. Out, out, damned screen. And take your buttons with you. Voice phones should have voice commands and giant batteries and maybe Bluetooth (the wireless standard for connecting such devices) to my headset and that's all I need. Perhaps a synch to my desktop for management of the voice phone, which would look like a wand, I suppose, should I need it. But that's it.

Phones like the T66 are appearing in the market ever more discreet, more easily carried and less obtrusive. That's a good thing. The other end of the spectrum, the data phone user, probably doesn't want a phone at all. A laptop with a wireless card or a handheld device like a Handspring or an iPaq with a cellphone sleeve is probably more appropriate. That way you can travel, access your network or your email, and still have your voice phone for voice-only calls.

Data phones will be part of your data network and as such be configured with higher grades of security, multiple ways of accessing the network like Firewire, 802.11x, Bluetooth and the like.

However, Bluetooth takes things one step further. If you have a Bluetooth-capable headset you could connect to your data phone and make it your voice phone as well. In effect, so long as you're close enough to the device your headset is all you need to answer voice calls. That's great if you carry your laptop or handheld with you everywhere, but I'm keen on having two phones and using them where appropriate. I can give out my voice phone number to people I want to talk to and my email address to those who need to send and receive data. Only my network administrator, or perhaps the network itself, need know my data phone's number.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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