In Britain and many other countries, the name for what in north America is referred to as a cellular phone. Incidentally, Europe and Asia are light-years ahead of North America when it comes to mobile/cellular phone usage. Example: as of May 2000, in Britain, Finland, Sweden and Italy over half of all adults own a mobile phone. And the entire continent works on the GSM standard, I think analogue phones were phased out over five years ago.

As another brief example of how ubiquitous these things are in the UK, most primary (elementary) schools in Britain have had to ban them due to their incessant ringing irritating the teachers. And the shelves of Toys 'R' Us over here are lined with Nokias, Ericssons and Motorolas.

December 12, 2000: An update to the statistics above: after the forthcoming round of gift-buying for Christmas it is expected that two-thirds of Britons will own a mobile phone. Note that's 2/3 of the entire population, not just adults. And apparently we're texting each other nearly a billion times a month, too...

While mobile phones are certainly an excellent method of communication, in Asia they have a whole new different purpose in addition to the ones they were designed for. Mobile phones are the latest silly little fad that teenagers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan have decided to take up in order to compete with each other. It was discmen before, but tastes change fast.

Mobile phones are now relatively cheap compared to before. However, as a fad, they are still dreadfully expensive. Brainless kids in Asia continually discard their old phones for the newest, most compact phone, which they regard to as cute. Ignoring the fact that the radiation levels for some of these phones can give you cancer in a few years because the manufacturers removed the shielding, people continue to ride along this stupid fad because now mobile phones are regarded as a status symbol here. Now inane.

It doesn't stop there. Nokia recently revealed a phone with a large screen where you can play games like Tetris on it. Instantly, the old phones sucked, no matter how new they were, people bought this new phone in droves. Not to be outdone, Ericsson and Motorola came out with similar models. Phones in Hong Kong were discarded on the street. I could seriously buy a new, working mobile phone for a buck there. Girls attach Hello Kitty stickers on their phones. People talk on their phones to nobody in particular, just to show off. It is always a laugh when a person is talking on the phone and it rings. What a fool.

Unlike most fads, this one has no end in sight. It is rather expensive for a fad, but nobody cares. I predict the next Asian fad to be Palm Pilots. Their prices are dropping, and sooner or later people will use them as status symbols. It's inevitable.

Small and incredibly handy communications device. The modern GSM mobile can be used in dozens of countries, and usually has lots of value added gizmos and utilities built in. The mobile phone is seen as a new platform for lots of internet services. Starting with the much-maligned (unfairly) WAP, which is slow but has the advantage of working on existing GSM exchanges, mobile manufacturers are now moving toward GPRS, which is vastly superior as it is about four times faster and is packet-based (and hence cheaper). Using WML, a rigidly defined and ultra-compressible XML-based markup language, services can be accessed on a multitude of devices regardless of screen size, colour depth, or even the need for a keyboard. Mobile manufacturers are currently developing EDGE and 3G based devices that will allow for video and broadband services. With a bit of luck and perseverence, even a current generation WAP phone such as a Nokia 7110 can do anything a far more expensive and bulky PDA can do. This is probably why big players in the PDA market such as Symbian are leaping into bed with the major handset manufacturers.

The statistic Iain quotes above is entirely true by the way. It is predicted that in a few years there will be no need for phoneboxes in Britain and they will begin to be phased out. This conjecture prompted the comedian Frank Skinner to reply "What do they expect us to do then? Piss in the street?"

The mobile phone is a low powered radio transceiver that provides voice telephone service to mobile users. Cellular telephones operate as portable telephones; whereas normal telephone requires a cord to connect to a jack in order to access the extensive wireline networks operated by local telephone companies, a cellular telephone is not restricted by a cord.

The mobile telephone works by transmitting radio waves to cellular towers. These towers vary in the area they cover, receiving nearby signals as short as 1.5 to 2.4km to distances as long as 48 to 56km. The area covered by a tower is referred to as a cell; the towers within these cells are networked to a central switching station usually by wires, fibreoptic cables or microwave. Central switching stations handling cellular calls in a given area are picked up by towers and relayed to the rest of the telephone network. Since cells overlap, as a caller moves from one cell into another the towers "hand off" calls so communication is uninterrupted.

A connection between a telephone and a base unit occupies one of 832 channels currently allocated to cellular communications. Each channel corresponds to radio waves of 2 frequencies; a lower frequency (range 825 - 850 MHz) that's emitted by the telephone and a higher frequency (870 - 895 MHz) that's emitted by the base unit.

Network management functions, performed at a central facility known as a Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO), include the ability to measure and compare the transmission quality between a single handset and multiple towers. This function is important so that the MTSO can select the last transmission link between mobile telephones and towers. This optimal link is used to pass transmissions from one tower to another as the mobile telephone moves etween cells. All cell towers in a given area connect with the MTSO, which in turn has links to the wireline local exchange carrier that handles normal telephone calls. The link between MTSO and the wireline local telephone company is essential for connecting wireless and wireline calls. The vast majority of calls handled by a cellular radio network begin on the wireline network or end there.

A new generation of cellular radio technology, called Personal Communications Services (PCS) operates much like earlier celluar services, but at higher frequencies (around 1900 MHz). So PCS also uses completely digital transmissions rather than the analog transmissions that many current cellular telephone use. Digital transmissions convert sound into digital form, which can be transmitted faster and more efficiently than analog signals.

The high frequency waves ensure reliable cellular links to and from towers over short distances. However high frequency waves cannot effectively travel as far as low frequency signals. For cellular networks this limited range is advantageous, because ther are a limited number of radio frequencies available to cell phone companies. It also allows cellular network providers to accomodate a large number of users.

*this was an essay for an exam just gone...

A mobile phone manifesto

It is my heart-warmed and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone.

Mark Twain's Christmas greetings, 1890

Disclaimer: I am a wireless user (Ericsson T-60d). I struggle every day to live this manifesto with integrity.

I. Mobile phones are designed to be a convenience in the service of humankind. They serve me; I do not serve them.

A. I will always try to seek alternatives to using a mobile phone, for the constant need of having one is a sure sign my life needs simplifying. Unless I have a job where it is critical that I be easy to get to – medical doctor, hostage negotiator, parent, nuclear power plant safety officer, etc. – I probably do not really need one.

B. I am always conscious that they have a silent setting.

C. I am always conscious that they can be ignored or left at home in a drawer.

II. Mobile phones are often an annoyance to others. I must use this device respectfully. I am aware that others are not interested in my conversations nor are they amused by my device’s cute musical rings.

A. I will not use it in a restaurant.

B. I will silence it or turn it off during plays, movies or other performances; in libraries or museums; during ceremonies; in religious buildings; in cemeteries; or in any other place intended to be enjoyed in silence or reverence.

C. I will adjust my mobile phone’s ringer volume, if possible, to the lowest practical setting. I will use the silent or vibrate mode as much as possible.

D. Abruptly interrupting a face to face conversation is almost always rude, and incoming mobile phone calls are almost always abrupt. Therefore, I will not interrupt a face to face conversation to answer my mobile phone unless absolutely necessary. If the accepting the call cannot be avoided, I will terminate the phone conversation as quickly as possible, and I will apologize profusely to my live companion, for by accepting the phone call I have effectively abandoned them for some faceless, nameless Other.

E. If my mobile phone requires me to speak loudly in order to be heard, I will avoid using it in public whenever practical. I will sequester myself to a secluded place and carry on my conversation where my voice will not disturb others.

F. I will be ever mindful that there are few conversations that cannot wait for a more appropriate time or place. I will use voice mail and call people back when and where it will not be inappropriate to do so.

G. I will never take my phone into the bathroom with me, especially if I have a hands-free model, and continue my conversation while I relieve myself.*

H. I will not leave my mobile phone in a purse, bag, or other container and then abandon it for long periods of time. Meanwhile, my phone rings incessantly to the annoyance of my fellow beings. A coworker at my office does this, and when it happens I start looking for websites selling railguns that take the Discover card and do overnight delivery.

III. No matter what the mobile device manufacturers say, using a mobile phone while driving, operating heavy equipment, or performing any task requiring my full attention and concentration is dangerous.

A. Ever mindful of paragraph II, section E, I will never accept or place a phone call when my full attention is required to perform an active task, such as driving a car. If I have hands-free equipment, I will only accept incoming calls if it is safe to do so. I will not compromise my safety or that of others to take a call.

B. If I must use the mobile phone while performing such a task, I will wait to get in a safe condition first (e.g., parked in a parking lot if in car).

IV. By possessing and using a mobile phone, I implicitly agree to this manifesto in word and in spirit. I agree with and accept any and all consequences the universe or my fellow humans decide to inflict upon me as a result of my irresponsible mobile phone usage. I will serve as an example to other mobile phone users and be as an evangelist -- spreading the good news of this manifesto until telepathy or good sense makes mobile phones obsolete.


*Added 1/15/2002. This one is from experience. I was minding my own business, and this guy sits down in the stall next to mine, gabbing on his cell phone. He was having trouble downstairs, loudly, and did not stop his conversation. I don't know how the person on the other end could have missed it. He was grunting and straining, even. So, don't do that.

It's a Samsung T-519 "Trace." It's got Bluetooth, a memory card expansion slot, and a 1.3 megapixel camera, and lots of other bells and whistles. So many, in fact, that I'm totally swept up in cellphone culture; conveniently text messaging all my friends, zapping files back and forth from my computer; the hi-res camera ready at a second's notice. Even though these are all just peripherals, I love all them all much more than the main feaure.

I hate actually talking on the phone! Lately I've begun to daydream about laying it under my car and driving over it, back and forth, until the voices in my head tell me to stop. Seriously, I think I wanna just get rid of the thing altogether.

What if there's some emergency, my friends argue. What if your car explodes in the middle of the night and you need a friend to drive to, say Guatemala, and pick you up? What if I'm lost somewhere (Guatemala?) with no way home and reaching you is my last hope?

Frankly, deal with it. Guatemala is a rather extreme example, but we had ways to resolve these issues way before we all got mobile phones. This device might actually be useful if I really had to deal with emergencies like that, but mostly people just use it to track where I am and what I'm doing, and annoy me into making up excuses to hang up on them.

I wouldn't mind if they stalked me in a cool way. They could batarang a homing beacon onto me from a far rooftop, with such precision that I don't even feel it. That could be followed up with a stealthy chase, bounding rooftop-to-rooftop, to my super-secret hideout. But the reality is just not that badass. The act of holding that thing up to my ear is an annoyance, and the inevitability of splitting my attention between this conversation and whatever else I was already doing fills me with impatience. That other thing I was working on before you called: that was something I would probably rather be doing anyway or else I would have called you "just to say hi," and now it has to come to a grinding halt so you can tell me all about your day. Or whatever.

So I have to put down my book, pause the XBox game (usually Marvel Vs. Capcom 2), tune out "Scrubs" or Colbert, and stop trying to coordinate a mouse and keyboard with just one free hand, because that never works out. But I would really rather get back to that stuff, and if I'm gonna put it on hold for this call, you'd better make this brief, because I just remembered that my arms are really weak, and holding that thing gets uncomfortable fast. I lose interest in the conversation after about 2 minutes.

My girlfriend is the worst offender. She constantly call me "to see how I'm doing." Sometimes I don't answer; for instance, if I (1) am at work, (2) am driving, or (3) don't fucking feel like blabbing on the fucking phone. I've begged her over and over again: don't call; please just text message me instead! But she enjoys chatting and she's pretty persistent. Sometimes she'll just keep calling until I pick up.

I hear her out for 2 minutes, but after that, true to form, I start concocting exit strategies. I have to go to the bathroom. I'm getting another call. I was doing something when you called and I really must get back to it. She notices when my replies start to shrink into terse grunts and knows me well enough to sense my focus wandering off. I know it's mean, but please understand, I subconsciously started ignoring the caller as soon as I got the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the message. Now she's just dull background noise. And once again, just like that, I'm hating the way this thing feels against my ear and trying to block her out.

Seriously, it's like turning on your TV to a show you don't really care for, like One Tree Hill. You can't change the station, and you can't turn it off. This starts as an incidental irritation, then you realize you're gonna sit through some b.s. commercials as well, but in no time it's a fierce and loathsome enemy, a terrifying menace that can't be bargained with, does not feel remorse, pity, pain, or fear, and absolutely will not stop until you are peeved. Chucking it into a vat of molten steel is suddenly your only reasonable option.

I'll take any excuse to pry this thing off me. I'll make up one if I have to.

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