Future mobile devices the size of a fridge

The next-generation, Internet-friendly mobile phone standard faces some giant-sized obstacles

In the future mobile phones will be the size of a fridge, weigh around 200lbs and cost approximately £1bn. That is, unless mobile phone manufacturers pull their socks up and start building next-generation handsets.

Ericsson Thrusday showed off one of the world's few working phones compatible with the future mobile phone standard, the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), expected to debut in 2002.

It's no hand-sized gadget and is hardly mobile.

Resembling a rack of routers and pinned to a wall, the "phone" is actually just a customised piece of hardware built in order to demonstrate Ericsson's working UMTS technology. There are of course mobile versions: At a development site in Guildford, Ericsson has three vans filled with devices designed to demonstrate the roaming capabilities of UMTS.

UMTS, or "third generation" (3G) technology allows for very high-speed connections, making it possible for users to send and receive data on mobile devices at speeds many times faster than a 56k modem. This opens up a world of possibilities for users, the mobile industry and Internet firms alike. Mobiles currently reach data rates of less than a standard PC modem.

Telecoms firms are currently bidding for licenses to supply UMTS technology; the results of the negotiations will be released in the next few weeks.

The "killer applications" for this technology are expected to be mobile video-conferencing, video email, gaming and the like. Lars Bergendahl, operations director for UMTS at Ericsson, says that there are "a few" genuine UMTS handsets in existence, but these are only capable of voice-over-IP communication.

Devices will be developed, but there are a few genuine concerns over the future of this technology, not least its cost. A spokesman for Ericsson's devices division says that these will inevitably be "premium priced devices".

The availability of services could also prove problematic. The availability of high-bandwidth applications is dependent on the network capabilities that telecommunications suppliers provide.

Let Rupert demystify pulse radio, Bluetooth, UMTS, and PAN's for you at AnchorDesk UK.

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