All circuits are busy -- please try again later

Cell phones can do almost anything these days -- now if only I could get one to actually complete a call.

LAS VEGAS -- They can build a roller coaster on top of a skyscraper, a replica of the Eiffel Tower, or even the Empire State Building, but they cannot seem to build enough cellular phone towers to keep up with the demands of the Week of Geek that descends upon Las Vegas.

All week, attendees and regular vacationers alike attempting to make cellular phone calls were greeted with the familiar refrain "All circuits are busy now, please try your call again later." In fact, it often takes five to 10 attempts to complete a call, and don't hold your breath if you are waiting for a call -– I think that my phone only rang three times while in town despite having received dozens of voice mail messages. Apparently, 225,000 techno geeks in one town are enough to bring any major city's cellular phone system to its knees.

The frustration of not being able to make a cell call was more than made up for by the amount of cool mobile phone technology present on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Mobile phones and accessories abounded at Comdex Fall 2000 and many of them were the forbearers of the inevitable digital convergence.

They surf the Web, they take pictures, they play MP3s, they play movies, they are PDAs, they communicate wirelessly with your laptop, they can even pay for a Coke from a vending machine. And they can make telephone calls too -- except during Comdex in Las Vegas. Today's (and tomorrow's) generation of mobile phones are promising a dizzying bouillabaisse of features that make it difficult to remember that the thing is even a phone.

Two or three years ago you wouldn't have seen nearly as much mobile phone technology at a computer trade show, but now that the digital convergence is fast approaching, the new generation of digital handsets is arguably more functional than the PC that sits on your desk.

The Ericsson R380 World Phone is about as small as they come, at least in the United States, and at only 164 grams (including battery) the R380 packs in a lot of features. It looks pretty much like a regular mobile phone with the ability to roam in 120 countries on five continents, but when you flip down the keypad you quickly notice that the R380 more resembles a PDA than a phone. When open, you will notice that the large LCD panel extends down the full length of the handset.

The R380 LCD is actually a touch screen, not unlike a Palm, that when combined with a stylus allows you access to a full range of communication and personal organization tools, including e-mail, mobile Internet, and an electronic organizer. Based on Symbian's Epoch operating system, the R380 also packs some powerful mCommerce features such a built-in WAP security and soft token authentication.

Mobile phone heavyweight Nokia had a strong presence on the show floor featuring a number of new handsets. The company's 3390 handset is an entry-level model that adds features previously available only in Europe. The 3390 allows you to download personalized ring tones from a variety of Web sites so that you can distinguish your phone from all the others in a room. It also has downloadable profiles, four new games, and mobile text and picture messaging.

Nokia's 7190 GSM is the company's first Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phone available in the United States. The 7190 features an oversized 65-by-96-pixel display that is about 80 percent larger than most other mobile phones on the market. In addition, the 7190 features a NaviRoller button that lets you easily cruise through your address book, calendar, or to-do list.

On a more fun note, the Samsung UpRoar is a combination dual-band, dual-mode handset combined with a built-in MP3 player. In addition to being able to surf the Web and POP your e-mail via its advanced data capabilities, the UpRoar lets you sit back and enjoy your favorite MP3, which you can navigate courtesy of the remote control attached to the headphone cable. Now that is cool.

It won't be long before we reach total convergence and we will carry one device that is a phone, Web client, MP3 player, digital camera, and several other features that we haven't even thought of yet. The current batch of digital mobile phones on display at Comdex/Fall 2000 is a testament to the fact that convergence is upon us. Comdex/Fall 2001 will undoubtedly feature a new litter of mobile phones, with even more features. Dick Tracy, look out. Now if I could only get my phone to actually complete a call.

Jason D. O'Grady is the head of the wireless practice at Odyssey Systems Corp. and publisher of Go2Mac.com and PalmLounge.com.

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