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You can get sports updates, bank balances and stock prices via the short message service (SMS) on your mobile phone and soon you will be able to get a soap opera, too.

The soap will be based around the lives, loves, triumphs and disasters of a group of eight characters. Each episode will stretch across three SMS messages.

The idea is already on trial in Germany and its inventors are now talking to British TV companies to develop the soap and the update service further.

Leading the way with this new form of episodic entertainment is technology company Materna, which has signed a deal with German mobile phone firm E-Plus

The drama, simply called SMS-Soap, revolves around the lives of eight individuals - called Laura, Franziska, Judith, Inka, Tim, Mirko, Jan, and Ulf - who all work at an advertising agency owned by Tim.

Michael Ohajuru, a spokesman for Materna, said three messages were needed for each episode because the 160-character limit of one SMS message would not allow the story to develop enough. "The only downside of SMS is its brevity," he said.

Mr Ohajuru added that many mobile phone networks allowed up to three messages to be linked together as a single "event" for which the customer was charged the price of only one message.

The SMS-Soap will be free until the end of May when E-Plus will start charging 39 pfennigs (12p) for each episode. A weekly summary of events in the soap will be posted on the E-Plus website every Sunday.

Mr Ohajuru said Materna was currently negotiating with the makers of soaps in the UK and expected a similar service to launch in Britain soon.

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As technology develops it gets harder and harder to work out what has changed when a new gadget or widget goes on sale.

This is especially true of mobile phones. The first mobile phones were as bulky portable and attractive as a breeze block.

Now they are all slinky, shiny and interchangeable. The improvements made to each one only become clear when you start to use them.

Third-generation, or 3G, networks are going to continue this trend. The phones will look the same as ever but the uses to which they can be put will simply explode.

In the old days, when all phones were fixed rather than mobile, making a call involved establishing a direct electrical connection between your handset and the one you were calling.

The same happens with GSM mobiles, but instead of setting up a dedicated circuit, a small portion of the airwaves are reserved for your call.

This is a really bad way of dividing up the available airwaves because it means that the spaces and pauses in speech get the same priority as the words.

3G networks change all this. Instead of reserving airspace each conversation is chopped up into packets, each one of which is labelled with a code denoting which dialogue it is from.

There are different flavours of these sorts of networks. The flavour that many GSM networks are expected to adopt is known as Universal Mobile Telecommunication Services (UMTS), but the US is adopting a different flavour in a move that could preserve existing incompatibilities. This radical change means 3G mobile networks can support lots more subscribers and let them download data much faster. On current GSM networks data chugs around at 9.6 kilobits per second (kbps).

By contrast the upper limit for 3G networks is 2 megabits per second if you are standing still and 384 kbps for those on the move.

These are maximum rates and possible speed will fall as more people download data in any particular cell. It is possible that at peak times phone users will be lucky to do better than the 56kbps possible over a fixed phone.

Using packets of information to carry voice and data also means that your phone is effectively always connected to the network. This means that SMS messages, e-mails, video clips, or whatever can be delivered any time, you don't have to dial-up to check mail.

This will mean a huge change in the way that you pay for your phone. Mobile operators will have to stop charging on the basis of talk time and move to a model based on the packets you download or a single charge per month covering anything and everything you do.

The move to 3G networks means you will be able to do many more things with your mobile phone. It could become a wallet holding train or cinema tickets, discount vouchers for shops or even a key to unlock your house.

All these extra tasks will put something of a burden on the handset. At the moment screens on phones are small, they are difficult to type or get data into and they typically only work with one mobile phone technology.

Third-generation networks might require bigger screens, especially if you download video clips, better ways to move data in and out of them, and bigger memories if you want to carry your MP3 files with you.

The handsets themselves are likely to get slightly bigger to hold batteries to support these new uses and to include chipsets for existing mobile networks as well as the new ones.

Until UMTS is ubiquitous you'll be forced to use the best network available in your location. Because the cells that make up 3G networks are much smaller than those of existing network technologies you could be stuck with your 2G phone outside the big cities.

 

The day of 3G may be dawning but it will be a long time before the sun sets on our existing mobile phones.

 

 

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Text messages. We can't get enough of them, and phone companies hope they are a taste of the future. But, for the user there's a hitch.

For most of us, Wap is woeful but SMS is simply smashing. We can't get enough of them. In February more than 800 million text messages were sent across the four UK phone networks.

In the past we've been sending most of these messages to each other, but now companies, and mobile phone firms in particular, are starting to realise that SMS could do the job that Wap was supposed to, and help them ensure that third-generation (3G) phones are not a complete flop.

"The precedent setting, the partner creation, the revenue demonstration, the proof of principle for 3G services are all going to happen through SMS," said Andrew Bud, chief executive of SMS management company Mblox.

Mr Bud believes that consumers will use SMS for their first taste of the information-based services that phone operators hope will provide the revenue to pay for their new high-speed phone networks.

The reason for this change in thinking is obvious. "SMS has 100% penetration, every telephone can do it, it's proven technology," said Nigel Couzens of city-info firm WCities, "unlike Wap and the forthcoming GPRS technology."

So brace yourself as more companies begin using SMS to send adverts, news about discounts and special offers to you. The inbox on your mobile could soon be bulging with all manner of messages.

The precedent has already been set at the Lakeside and Bluewater shopping centres in Essex and Kent where late last year SMS advertising firm ZagMe ran the first trials. With its system subscribers tell ZagMe when they are going to the mall, how long their shopping trip will last and the bargains they are interested in.

The trial has been hugely successful. More than 50,000 people and 150 shops signed up with ZagMe. The service sends a few messages per hour to subscribers. The first messages caused near riots at the stores where the first few consumers to turn up got discounts on sports shoes.

Bill Green, chief executive of ZagMe, put this enthusiasm down to the "novelty factor" but adds: "The use of this is going to become very much a part of life."

The simple reason for this is because it works. ZagMe estimates that a £70,000 direct mail campaign can reach around 85,000 people and produce a response rate of about 1.5%. By contrast a £70,000 ZagMe campaign reaches more than 230,000 people and gets a 10% response.

Mr Green said restaurants in particular like the service because it helps them keep the tables filled. By sending out an SMS during quiet times they get customers coming to the restaurant and keep the tills ringing.

ZagMe started with shopping centres because they are geographically distinct areas and it is easy to know which mobile phone cell the messages should be piped through. Now the service is starting to be expanded into other malls and soon will be available along major shopping streets in city centres.

It is not just shops that are starting to use the service. Last week messaging company Justabeep launched two services, "barbeep" and "nitebeep", that let people know of drinks promotions and DJ appearances via SMS. So far 65 bars in Glasgow have signed up. London and Paris are next. It is only one of many more services that are expected to be launched this year.

WCities, which provides city guides for all manner of mobile devices, is also looking to use SMS as a way for people to find what they want when they are in unfamiliar surroundings.

Mr Couzens from WCities said city centres are perfect for this type of service because the cells served by mobile masts are smaller in built-up urban areas. "Positioning is still done via cell ID and is crude at the moment," he said, "but it is possible to get down to 100 metres in some cases."

Soon it will be possible to interrogate the WCities guides via SMS and get in return a list of good restaurants, cinemas or whatever close to where you are standing.

By getting people used to using their phone to access these sorts of services, be they shopping discounts, sports results or restaurant reviews, many mobile operators are hoping that it will be easier to persuade consumers to move to, (and pay for) third-generation networks.

With 3G networks, and the improvements to existing mobile phone networks, it becomes possible to send longer messages and include sounds, images or video clips or digital tokens that can act like cash.

The downside is that some unscrupulous firms are bound to start sending out spam and clogging the vastly bigger inbox of your futuristic phone with messages that you don't want about services or offers you don't need. Welcome to the information age.

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Vodafone has shunned an initiative to help telecoms firms cut the costs of building the high-speed mobile networks needed for the next generation of phones.

Competing mobile phone firms are pushing to establish a shared infrastructure in order to cut costs and help reduce debt-mountains.

A proposed link-up, aimed at shaving 20-30% off the cost of setting up the new high speed mobile network, is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

But D2 Vodafone, the German cellphone arm, is not willing to share its network with its competitors, even for the sake of cutting costs.

The huge cost of 3G licences - which will allow mobiles to provide access to the internet or near-TV quality video - is the key reason why telecoms stocks have plummeted on the world's stock markets over the last eighteen months.

"Such a cooperation would be a brake on competition," said D2 Vodafone boss Juergen von Kuczkowski at the Cebit trade fair in Germany. "We will fight against any cooperation that will depart from licence conditions," he added.

Six mobile phone companies won 3G licences in Germany at a total cost of more than 50.5bn euros ($46.1bn, £30.4bn). It is the smaller companies that are suffering most from the huge capital expenditure demanded from the 3G auctions, whereas Vodafone has weathered the financial pressures better than some of its rivals.

And Vodafone may have already invested more in its network hardware than the smaller firms. If Vodafone agrees to share its network, it risks presenting its rivals with a better position in the market.

"From the moment when infrastructure is shared with another operator, competition ceases.... we do not want our competitiveness to be threatened," said Mr von Kuczkowski.

But the co-operation package has been welcomed in principle by other leading companies such as Deutsche Telekom's T-mobile subsidiary. And Viag Interkom, the German mobile phone group that is part owned by BT, has said that it hopes to reveal a cooperation proposal with its rivals in the coming weeks.

Deutsche Telekom paid the highest price for its licence, and was forced to absorb a 1.06bn euro loss in the last three months of last year. But Deutsche Telekom has also voiced doubts about whether regulatory hurdles can be overcome.

Sharing a network reduces competition and risks lifting the lid on consumer prices, therefore needing to win regulatory clearance. The regulator has already indicated that the operators should submit plans for cooperation. And some companies are also sceptical about whether the licence conditions can be changed retrospectively.

The six telecoms companies who paid up to buy the 3G licences in Germany are Deutsche Telekom, D2 Vodafone, E-plus (Hutchinson, KPN etc), Viag Interkom (BT etc), MobilCom (France Telecom etc) and Group 3G (Telefonica etc).

 

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Vodafone engineers were "ecstatic" on Monday after making the first third-generation (3G) mobile phone call from a real network in the UK.

The British mobile phone giant said the "live voice call" was a significant milestone toward rolling out its 3G services.

"The advent of a new generation of mobile multimedia services will enable our customers to live more of their lives through their mobile device," said Gavin Darby, chief operating officer of Vodafone UK.

Third-generation services promise to give users high-speed access to the internet and will allow them to download video clips.

Vodafone made a series of calls over a real 3G network, rather than a test network, in the Thames Valley area where it has rolled out 30 radio base stations.

"You could hear how ecstatic they were about making the call," said a Vodafone spokeswoman who spoke to one of the 3G engineers shortly afterwards.

The company has been rolling out the network with its infrastructure provider Ericsson since autumn last year.

Industry experts, however, were less enthused. Ian Harbage, a fund manager and telecom expert at Barclays Stockbrokers, said the 3G call "was not particularly meaningful".

He added that investors would be more interested in the company's ability to meet targets to deliver commercial 3G services.

Vodafone plans to launch its first live 3G service in the second half of 2002, offering initial services in large cities and around major transport routes. The company also said that it was on schedule to exceed its licence obligation of covering 80% of the UK's population by 2007.

Vodafone's competitors were keen to downplay the company's so-called "milestone". A spokesman for BT Cellnet said the British Telecom subsidiary had already made a 3G call in March, but conceded this was at a test facility in Slough rather than from a proper network.

The UK mobile phone group Orange said its 3G network rollout should also be complete by the middle of next year.

Earlier this month, the Isle of Man's telephone company Manx Telecom, owned by British Telecom, took delivery of the first 3G handset to arrive in Europe. Manx Telecom is competing with Japan's telecoms giant DoCoMo to get the world's first 3G network up and running.

Vodafone paid £5.9bn last year to obtain a 3G licence for the UK. The company is one of five groups that paid a total of £22.5bn for British licences. Vodafone already launched its General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) - also known as 2.5G - at the beginning of this month.

Before making a full transition to 3G services, the company plans to phase in 3G capability onto dual-mode handsets that can also handle GPRS technology.

The huge cost of 3G licences has increased the debt burden for telecom companies as they borrow money to fund their purchases.

Mounting debt at the companies has subsequently placed pressure on their share prices, causing telecom stocks to plummet over the last 18 months. Vodafone's stock hit a high of 399p in March 2000 before steadily declining through the rest of the year and 2001. At 1025 UK time (0925 GMT), the stock was at 202.75p, down 6% from Friday's close.

Vodafone also said it was not concerned by media reports that Ericsson is about to cut another 6,000 jobs when it releases its first-quarter results this week.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nearly a billion mobile phone text messages were sent in January, according to the latest industry figures from the Mobile Data Association.

If you take the average price of sending a message at 10p, that means the texting business is now worth £100m a month.

Teenagers are the biggest text messagers, with children as young as twelve known to have run up bills of £60 a month.

Teenagers love the simplicity and secrecy of text messaging, but they often mistakenly believe that it's cheap.

According to the Carphone Warehouse, BT Cellnet and Vodafone charge 12p to send a message, Orange charges between 4p and 10p depending on the tariff, and with One2One it can cost either 10p, 5p or nothing, depending on the call type.

The total number of messages rose to 929 million in the UK last month, compared to just 756 million the previous month, or 322 million a year earlier.

The 18.6% month-on-month increase was spurred by a frenzy of 'Happy New Year' messaging.

And figures are expected to be equally high this month, due to a boom in romantic messages on Valentine's day.

Telecom watchdog Oftel is to investigate whether Britain's 40 million mobile phone users are increasingly sending text messages to avoid higher call charges for mobile phones.

"Texting is a very conspicous development and we want to see what effect it has had on the market," said an Oftel spokeswoman.

"It is a possibility that the growth in text messaging could drive down the cost of mobile calls," she added.

Vodafone and BT Cellnet says that the number of spoken calls made from mobiles is also continuing to grow, albeit at a much slower rate.

"There will always be a demand for making calls to and from mobiles irrespective of the growth of text messaging," BT Cellnet's Carole Williams said.

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The traditional wait for the postman is likely to be supplanted by the bleep of the mobile phone this St Valentine's Day.

Twice as many text messages as cards will be sent as the latest craze for teenagers goes into overdrive.

When the A-level results were released in August, teenagers sent six million messages in one day, but that figure was surpassed on New Year's Eve when 11 million text messages were sent.

This St Valentine's Day will see an estimated 30 million messages sent on the wings of love between mobile phones.

The Post Office expects to deliver 12 million cards by traditional snail mail.

Text messaging may even be taking over from 'snail mail' as the preferred method of sending romantic greetings to somebody else.

A survey carried out by Virgin Mobile reveals that over half of the UK's 24 million mobile phone users (57%) would consider sending a text message (SMS) from their phone rather than a Valentine's card.

Half of all mobile phone users expect a Valentine's text message from a lover and one in four people intend to use text messaging to ask someone out on St Valentine's Day.

Another mobile phone company, Vodafone, has come up with a novel solution for those wishing to send anonymous text messages. Normally, the sender of a text message comes up after the message but Vodafone can circumvent that with a special service it is providing for Valentine's Day.

Secret admirers will now be able to send text messages and keep the receiver guessing in the old-fashioned way.

The growth in text messaging has been astonishing. In 1999 an average of 500,000 text messages were sent every month; this year that figure will increase a thousand fold with 500 million text messages being sent every month.

It is now the preferred means of communication for Britain's teenagers and a new abbreviations dictionary (or DXNRE) called wan2tlk? has been a bestseller for months.

Valentine's Day will be a boon for all mobile phone companies with text messages costing an average of 12p each. But companies have also warned of possible delays as the networks try to cope with demand.

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A UK tourist stranded on a boat off Indonesia has used her mobile phone to raise the alarm with her boyfriend in England.

He dialled 999 and was put through to coastguards in Falmouth, who alerted the Indonesian authorities to her plight.

Indonesian rescue workers, and coastguards in Australia, are trying to locate the tourist, who is believed to have run aground with some friends on a hired boat between Bali and Lombok.

The distance between the two islands is around 10 miles.

The woman, who has not been named, telephoned her boyfriend at 0230GMT on Wednesday, when the 23-foot boat she and her friends had hired ran aground.

She tried unsuccessfully to summon help locally and resorted to ringing her boyfriend back in England.

When Falmouth coastguards contacted her on her mobile phone, she was unable to give them her precise location.

By 1030GMT, the Indonesian authorities were informed of what had happened.

It is unclear how much danger the stricken tourists are in, but the duty watch officer at Falmouth said that making a long-distance mobile phone call was the right decision

He said: "Unless she can speak the local language, she wouldn't get very far trying to ring the authorities in Indonesia herself."

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The dangers of using mobile phones whilst driving have again come under scrutiny following the conviction of lorry driver Paul Browning.

Browning, 36, from Kenley, Surrey, was composing a text message on his mobile phone when he veered off a road and fatally injured a pedestrian.

Paul Hammond, 24, from Hockley, Essex, was killed in June last year after being hit by Browning's heavy goods vehicle, laden with gas bottles, in a lay-by on the A13 at Pitsea, Essex.

Browning admitted causing death by dangerous driving at a trial earlier this week but denied he was composing a text message at the time of the accident.

But in a ruling on Wednesday, believed to be the first of its kind, a judge found that the text message had played a part in the accident.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has long campaigned for legislation which would ban the use of mobile phones in cars.

Unofficial figures held by the RoSPA state that, to date, 16 road deaths have occurred in the UK in which mobile phones can be implicated.

Most mobile phone companies issue documentation with new purchases spelling out the dangers of using hand-held mobile phones whilst driving.

Tom Wills-Sandford, director of information and communications at the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI) which represents mobile phone operators and manufacturers, said: "The basic principle which should be adhered to by drivers is to obey the law.

"The only objective should be to concentrate on driving and on no account should drivers be reading or sending text messages."

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has produced a leaflet highlighting the dangers of mixing driving with mobile phones.

The leaflet stresses that although there is currently no legislation banning the use of mobile phones in cars, drivers can be prosecuted for offences such as careless driving or, in more serious cases such as that of Browning, dangerous driving.

Richard Meakin of the DETR said: "Our leaflet, which is being made available to the police and road safety officers, recommends that mobile phones should not be used at all while driving.

"This latest case highlights the tragic consequences which can result if drivers do not maintain proper control of their vehicles."

Mr Meakin said the government would be launching an advertising campaign in the next few months which it hopes will further deter the use of mobiles by drivers.

A government spokesperson said the reason the use of mobile phones whilst driving had not been made a specific offence was because it was feared other forms of distraction, such as putting on make-up, changing CDs or eating whilst driving, would be trivialised.

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A lorry driver who was sending a text message to his girlfriend when he hit and killed a man has been sentenced to five years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving.

The court case, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, centred on whether or not Paul Browning, 36, from Kenley, Surrey, was messaging on his mobile phone at the time of the collision.

Paul Hammond, 24, from Hockley, Essex, was killed in June last year after being hit by Browning's heavy goods vehicle, in a lay-by on the A13 at Pitsea, Essex.

Browning admitted causing death by dangerous driving but denied that he was using his phone at the time of the accident.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Judge Daniel Worsley said Browning's explanation that the message was keyed in while he was in stationary traffic was "wholly unbelievable".

He said that while the lorry driver was remorseful about what had happened, it was "difficult to imagine a more blatant act of such of cold blooded disregard for safety on the roads."

He said the five-year jail sentence was necessary to send a "stern deterrent' to drivers, stressing there was now serious public concern about motorists using mobile phones while driving.

Outside court the victim's father, Alan Hammond, said that justice had been done, but it would not bring back his son.

He said: "A lesson has been learned today that mobile phones can be lethal weapons."

Inspector Alan Jelley of Essex Police said the jail sentence - which could have been a maximum of 10 years under dangerous driving laws - sent a strong safety message to the public.

Earlier Barry Gilbert, prosecuting, told Southend Crown Court Browning lost concentration while composing a text message and slowly veered off the road into the lay-by.

The court was told Browning was in the process of writing a text message to his girlfriend when the accident occurred.

Browning's message to his girlfriend read: "Oh yes! A real scorcher! Well just leaving Benfleet 4 West Thurrock job No7 of 11."

After an expletive, Browning then ended the message with the words: "Call you back!"

Mr Gilbert told the court he did not believe Browning had been aware he had hit Mr Hammond because if he had he would not have ended the message in such a way.

But Kim Hollis, defending, said her client had been preoccupied with some papers which were flapping in his cab.

She said although he had composed a message earlier, he was not in the process of doing it when the accident happened.

The court heard Browning did send a message from his mobile phone shortly after the accident.

The court was told that at the time of the accident, the victim was standing in the lay-by speaking to his mother through the window of her Ford Escort.

His BMW car was parked behind her vehicle, also in the lay-by.

He had forgotten his glasses and she was delivering them to him.

Mr Gilbert said the victim was dragged some distance down the carriageway after being struck.

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