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You Can Take It with You!

You Can Take It with You!

Any day now (November 24) you'll be able to change your mobile phone network and take your number with you, something that Europeans have been doing for awhile. The networks hate it. As long as you were tied to your number you were tied to their network, and changing networks might mean changing everything from Web sites to business cards, so most people didn't bother.

Once you can take your number with you, things get much easier, though it remains to be seen how much paperwork will be required. New York is planning to offer a map of the city, showing the coverage offered by different cellular networks, to help people see which company suits them best, and surveys have indicated that over half of you will change your network once you can take your number with you.

The reality will certainly be less than that, but there's no denying that network operators are going to have to work harder to attract and keep their customers, who can get very fickle when given the opportunity.

But it's not all bad news for operators, as U.S. mobile users seem to be getting into text messaging, and in a big way. We've said before in these pages that once the billing systems got sorted out, the growth of texting would be phenomenal, and it seems to be happening. Premium text services, like the "All My Children" tie-in we look at in this issue, will encourage usage and familiarity, and once it starts, it will build very rapidly. Every user encourages others to start texting, and before you know it, the whole country will be experiencing the joy of text.

Here in Scotland it's pretty easy to choose a cellular network, coverage being sparse at best. Broadband isn't easy to come by either, nor is much else, to be honest. Cable companies don't really play a role, and ADSL is a far-off dream; even if the local exchange was enabled at 20 miles, I'm almost certainly beyond the range it can manage. For the last month I've been using a modem, a technology I had almost forgotten about, but last week they came and strapped a 1-meter dish to the side of my house, hooking me up to the sky. Now every message, and every Web site, has been 22,000 miles up and down again, before arriving none-the-worse, if slightly late.

Wireless isn't just about mobility, it's also about reaching places wires can't get, for logistical or practical reasons. Laying copper wire in the townships of South Africa might be viable, if they didn't get dug up and sold as soon as the installers left, so wireless networks are providing connectivity for the poorest citizens from fixed locations. No one is going to lay fast copper in the north of Scotland, but wireless can get everywhere.

Once the data arrives via satellite, assuming it makes it through the solar storms that are lighting up the sky around here at the moment, it gets onto the Wi-Fi network and finally the computers. While my last house was a mess of CAT-5 with walls like Swiss cheese, this time I'm determined to go wireless the whole way, and while less than perfect, 802.11b is still the technology of choice.

Wi-Fi has come a long way, and continues to improve in range, capacity, and crucially, security. While out here you'd probably notice someone hanging around within 100 meters of the house, most networks need to rely on something a little more tangible than someone looking out of the window to ensure their security. So in this issue we also look at what's happening in the world of 802.x standards, and what we can expect from the next generation of Wi-Fi.

Problems with my headset have driven me to try the speakerphone capabilities of some handsets recently, and they're terrible. It seems that "speakerphone" is just something to tick off on the features list rather than assuming someone might actually use it. In this issue Jim Jacot looks at the problems with speakerphones in handsets, and why we can expect some improvement in the next generation of devices.

But phones aren't just about phone calls anymore, with video being the latest must-have for any respecting smart phone. Being able to watch video is one thing, having some video to watch is another. However, because most phones do not have the capacity to store more than a few photographs, let alone the latest blockbuster, we sent Jeff Goldman to the World's Smallest Film Festival to see what you can fit in your pocket. You might not be getting the next Harry Potter movie, but these tiny entertainment features offer more than you might think.

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

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