e-business: Mobiles? This is just the start.
The M-revolution is only just beginning - despite the fact that there are already 40 million handsets already in use in the UK, according to Birmingham-born Roger Adey, chief executive of West Midlands communications specialists Crown Mobile.
The company, launched in 1994, employs 45 staff at centres throughout the region. It has a turnover in excess of pounds 3 million. Mr Adey, who believes the mobile market is still far from saturation point, says: 'Mobile communication is about to come of age, with network service providers and handset manufacturers finally delivering solutions which, until recently, were seen only in futuristic TV shows.
'Absolute compatibility between mobile and desktop equipment is now fully developed, allowing computer compatible telephones to take the place of heavy laptops - ideal for the professional on the move.' Mobile phones have come a long way since the first generation was introduced in the mid 1980s.
As big and heavy as a suitcase, and with a short battery life, they were expensive status symbols and became the must-have accessory of all yuppies. However, with analogue-only signals, calls made on these G1 handsets were easily eavesdropped, international roaming was not possible and network coverage sporadic.
Developments to the network in the 1990s brought mobiles to the masses - better network coverage, smaller handsets, secure conversations on digital frequencies and attractive cost packages saw mobile phones become an essential tool, not just a demonstration of conspicuous consumption. Agreements between service providers saw the introduction of GSM - capable of carrying eight times the traffic of G1, for the same network investment. Collaboration between international networks made roaming possible, while competitive pricing made the basic mobile accessible to all. 'The mobile phone has improved the ability for people to stay in contact while on the move, yet the real business muscle of completely integrated mobile communication is only now about to be flexed.' said Mr Adey.
'Consumer demand for voice and speedy data communication on the move brought about WAP. A disappointing interim service, WAP allow users to view Internet pages written in very basic XML, giving them access to a frustratingly limited set of information, which bears no comparison to Internet access from a desktop computer.
'Replicating desktop information into hand-held form is the key to the next generation.' He added: 'The much acclaimed 3G, the third generation of mobile phones, which promise increased band width and speed of data transfer comparable with desktop computers will not be with us until 2003. The much vaunted 'next generation', which sent network service providers spiralling into debt to secure the licences which guarantee them future market share, will ultimately replace the WAP service, with the ability to handle bigger chunks of data at a much faster speed.
'Using GPRS, these 3G phones will be permanently connected to the Internet, offering immediate notification of received e-mails. While businesses wait for 3G, technology continues to advance. What is fast emerging in this interim period is a marriage of existing and future technology - 2.5G.
'Set to change the way business is done on the move, 2.5G technology provides, for the first time, telephone equipment which has 100 per cent compatibility with desktop applications. This latest generation of mobile phones is already available, improving the facilities on offer to the office worker on the move. Nokia has paved the way for full office to mobile integration, with its 9210 - one of several new products soon to be available.'
He believes these revolutionary handsets, which allow users to receive, edit and re-send documents in Word or Excel, and read Powerpoint presentation, bring total communication between those in the office and those on the move. 'With no need for bulky laptops, which beg to be stolen from car seats, it is now possible to work on office documents from a mobile handset, without worrying about cables or power sources.'
Thanks to software developed by the Symbian partnership, mobile phone handsets also have total compatibility with the most popular office applications. 'Easy to read, full colour screens, increased download speeds and QWERTY keyboards make it easier for information to be manipulated,' Mr Adey explained.
'Many of these handsets have GPRS functionality so when the networks switch this service on, the handsets will be ready to receive e-mails and calls. Containing flash cards, which share the memory function, 2.5G handsets will have their power increased as the flash card memory increases, suggesting phones will soon become devices for storing more information than ever.
'With many of these developments already in the market place available at - under pounds 300 - they promise to deliver substantial improvements in efficiency and cost savings.
'Developments in mobile phone technology continue at a pace most of us cannot keep up with. Interim developments to bridge the gap between second generation phones and 3G continue. Much work is now being done to enable text-based communication on existing GSM handsets, using the SMS (text) system, to enable information from office intranets to be sent and received.
'Manufacturers are tackling market saturation by introducing must-have technology for business and personal users. Computer compatibility is only the beginning. Multi-sim phones, with up to 10 SIM cards active on one account, have been introduced by Vodafone.
'In effect this means phone users can have a choice of handsets, sharing the same number. Users can have a factory-fitted car phone, a work phone with computer compatibility, a waterproof 'sport and leisure' phone and a small pocket phone, all storing the same information about contacts and calls received.
Roger Adey, managing director of Crown Mobile Communications, with the new Nokia 9210 Communicator phone