CEBIT: Siemens gives peek into future

Siemens has given a sneak peek of products - from a phone that controls household appliances to a computer that recognises fingerprints - in varying states of readiness that will be on display at CeBIT 99, Europe's largest technology fair. The German company always demonstrates a bewildering variety of products at the trade show, but is uniting all its products under one brand this year.

Siemens has given a sneak peek of products - from a phone that controls household appliances to a computer that recognises fingerprints - in varying states of readiness that will be on display at CeBIT 99, Europe's largest technology fair.

Calling itself the largest single exhibitor at CeBIT, which takes place in Hanover, Germany, March 18 through March 24, Siemens always demonstrates a bewildering variety of products at the trade show -- a result of its broad spectrum of activities. But this year, for the first time, the company is putting a common face on its efforts in both data and voice communications, after reorganising them into one Information and Communications Group last year.

Reflecting the convergence of voice and data, Siemens will show how it has adapted its traditional products for voice networks to include data communications. For example, its upcoming Hicom Xpress TIS (telephony Internet server) sends data, fax and voice transmissions over an IP (Internet protocol) network. Using free Internet capacity to send voice and fax reduces the overall cost to a company, according to Siemens. Similarly, the company has adapted products that originally came from its data networking side -- formerly Siemens Nixdorf -- to transmit voice via local area networks. One such product is called HiNet RC 3000.

Siemens is also showing at CeBIT several possible applications for a newly developed technology called Fingertip that recognises the unique characteristics in users' fingerprints, letting them access a system without a password or personal identification number (PIN). The software that makes Fingertip technology possible can be integrated into a standalone PC, computer network, or even a mobile phone, Siemens said. The technology could also be used to replace a car's ignition key -- Siemens is already collaborating with a German car manufacturer on that -- or for debit and credit cards used in automatic teller machines, Siemens said.

With Fingertip, users tap a mouse-like object embedded with a microchip that immediately can read whether they are authorised to use the system. The user must first "train" the sensor to recognize their fingertip, said a Siemens employee who demonstrated the product. Fingertip can store and authenticate the prints of up to 100 people. The chip is based on the same technology as conventional memory chips, Siemens said. Fingertip has low power and space requirements, which makes it suitable for consumer applications, according to Siemens. The company plans to make the technology available to manufacturers of security systems.

Also on display will be a prototype of a standard phone set, Siemens' Euroset 845, equipped with what the company calls a Residential Gateway, designed to allow users to remotely control their household appliances. For example, a user can turn off a coffee maker from a mobile phone by punching in instructions over the telephone keypad. The Gateway also lets users forward an automatic alarm to any phone number if something out of the ordinary happens, such as a window breaking at home.

Up until now, such remote systems have largely been limited to industrial use, according to Erich Kamperschroer, project manager for Residential Gateway. The telephone has a serial V.24 interface which transmits control signals by radio to modules, appliances, service cables or a PC. The phone connects this equipment to the public telephone network. The product, which will be available at the end of 1999, will cost under $US100, he said.

An entry into the market for personal intelligent communicators (PICs) -- which Siemens defines as something between a palm-top computer and a notebook -- will also be shown at CeBIT. The PIC integrates a GSM telephone with a computer that is smaller and lighter than a laptop, but offers more functions than an organiser, according to Siemens.

Users can communicate by fax or e-mail, surf the Internet, or use the Microsoft Office suite software. The PIC also synchronises data stored on a home computer. To talk on the integrated phone, users plug in a set of ear phones. Field tests with the product will begin after CeBIT, according to a Siemens official, and it should cost under 2,000 marks. It weighs about 500 grams.

Even farther into the future, Siemens is showing a prototype of a third-generation mobile phone that will be based on the upcoming Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard. The most important feature of such phones will be their multimedia capabilities. Phone users will be able to conduct video conferencing, surf the Internet, or watch movies downloaded from the Internet, according to Siemens. Infrared and radio interfaces will be designed to connect add-on devices like digital cameras, laptops and palmtops.

Siemens had on display this week a prototype mobile phone model that displays videotapes on an integrated screen. Next to it was an ultra-thin model with no video capabilities, which is more what the real phone will look like when it is launched, according to a Siemens official demonstrating the product. Siemens still has a few years to bring together the design with the technology, as it predicts that the first such phones will be available in 2002.

Siemens AG, in Munich and Berlin, can be reached at +49-89-234-0 or at http://www.siemens.de/.

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