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A publicity campaign to warn motorists against driving while using hand-held mobile phones is getting into gear.

The start of the government-sponsored campaign coincides with the publication of new guidelines on the use of mobiles.

The guidelines, from the Federation of Communication Services, say drivers should never hold a mobile phone while driving.

Motorists are also advised to use hands-free mobiles only when it is safe to do so and to keep conversations short and simple.

Difficult calls and business "meetings" on the road are seen as unsafe.

The campaign is being supported by the RAC and other motoring organisations as well as the police, safety groups and the mobile communications industry.

Edmund King, the RAC's Head of Campaigns, said: "Hands-free mobile phones are, for many people, an essential part of everyday life.

"Used responsibly, they should cause no real distraction to the driver or danger to other road users."

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The telephone watchdog Oftel wants mobile phone companies to cut their prices after a study found Britain had some of the highest charges in the world.

Don Cruickshank, Director General of Oftel, also criticised British Telecom after the 12-month investigation found it was charging 10p a minute too much to call a mobile phone from a land line.

The watchdog has referred the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which will now carry out an investigation.

Operators of mobile phone networks, including Cellnet, Vodafone, One2One and Orange, are also criticised for the high cost and complex nature of the packages of tariffs and line rentals they sell.

Mr Cruickshank said he considered calls to mobile phones should be charged at about 20p per minute.

"Mobile phones are an increasingly important part of everyday life.

"They are no longer expensive toys for the few, but the cost of calling them is very high," he said.

Britain currently has 7.3 million mobile phone users but the figure is expected to hit 11 million within the next three years if prices are brought down.

The Oftel survey found the cost of a daytime call to Cellnet and Vodafone from a BT phone has fallen from 37.5p to 32p following demands made a year ago by the watchdog for prices to be cut.

BT defended its charges, saying the majority of its costs were dictated by the payment made to mobile operators for passing on calls.

It said charges had been reduced over the last 18 months and that its prices reflected the competitive UK market.

It said further reductions were "likely", but the decision to refer the matter to the MMC was unexpected: "We believe it to be unusual, if not unprecedented, for the director general to refer an issue to the MMC without having proposed and discussed potential licence changes with the interested parties."

The MMC investigation will look at the charges which BT, Vodafone and Cellnet make for calls to mobile phones.

Vodafone chief executive Chris Gent said competition was the best form of regulation and UK customers benefited from the widest choice of mobile phone services in Europe.

A recent survey suggested it would cost about £27.10 to use a mobile phone for 60 minutes in Britain compared with £10.84 in Germany.

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The British Government has commissioned a study using human guinea pigs to test whether the prolonged use of mobile phones carries serious health risks.
 
Eighteen volunteers are taking part in the study which is part of the Department of Health's radiation protection research programme. The tests, which are being carried out at Bristol University, are designed to detect short-term memory, reaction times and awareness in mobile phone users.
 
The volunteers will spend between 20 minutes to half-an-hour with a handset fixed to their heads, and carry out a series of tasks. Some of the handsets will be dummy ones, others will be real. It is part of a bigger project at Bristol University looking into the effects of microwave radiation on human beings.
 
Some scientists have suggested that radiation from mobile handsets could cause brain tumours, cancer, anxiety and memory loss, and there has been increasing concern amongst the public about the possible side-effects.
 
Dr Alan Preece of Bristol University, who is conducting the research, wrote in an article last year: "The facts are that cell phones emit either continuous microwaves at about 900 MHz or pulsed microwaves at 1.8 GHz and these must cause a small amount of tissue heating, including brain tissue."
 
Dr Preece says he has had a lot of enquiries from people worried about the effects of mobile phones. "There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence of people feeling weak, having memory problems and depression."
 
Official figures published last November showed that nearly one in five households in the UK possessed a mobile phone. 

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British police and trading standards officers are warning that a new trend in mobile phone services is being exploited by criminals.

In one case, a pensioner handed over £9,000 of life savings to bogus builders.

Pre-pay mobiles, which involve no contracts or rental charges, have been very popular since they came on the market last year.

Airtime is paid for in advance through a voucher system.

Because there are no credit checks, contracts or connection charges involved in signing up for the phone and no monthly invoices afterwards, the users are hard to trace.

But the system's anonymity is of increasing concern for law enforcement agencies.

Trading standards officers say the phones are being used by criminals to commit offences.

Senior officer Steve Playle said: "When I come to try to trace the subscriber of a mobile phone that's been used for crime it's impossible to find out who's been using that phone.

"No details will exist - they'll be anonymous basically," he said.

Because the technology is new, the problem of its criminal use is only just coming to light.

Trading standards officers are currently hunting a gang of bogus builders making use of untraceable phones.

The builders dupe people into pre-paying for work that is not needed and is never carried out.

The mobile phone industry says it will work with police to combat crime.

But trading standards officers have written to the government seeking a clampdown.

Steve Playle, a senior officer, says the authority and police want new phones to be registered.

"I'm all in favour of trying to widen mobile phone ownership but clearly the regulators have overlooked the problem that these phones can be used for crime, and that's something they really must tackle," he said.

The industry regulator, Oftel, says it will be closely monitoring the situation.

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You know what it's like ... a mobile phone rings, you dash around trying to find it. You scrabble around in your pockets and in bags but it's nowhere to be seen.

Where's the last, the very last place you'd expect to find it?

How about INSIDE a dog?

That's where Rachael Murray discovered the mobile phone she'd planned to give her flatmate!

The phone had vanished from under her Christmas tree so she dialled the number to try to find out where it had gone.

To her amazement, she heard a faint ringing from 10-stone bloodhound Charlie.

Rachel, 27, from Hendon, in north London, told The Sun newspaper: "At first I thought Charlie was lying on the phone - then I realised where it was.

"I couldn't believe he'd swallowed it. I sat there in disbelief."

She was even more mystified 24 hours later when the £29.99 Orange Nokia emerged in perfect working order after nature had taken its course.

Orange customer services gave Rachel the number so she could ring the lost phone.

A spokesman for Orange said: "The dog swallowed the phone while it was under the Christmas tree.

"All I can say is that we are delighted that customer services could help."

The phone was intended as a present for Rachel's flatmate Tony Dangerfield - but the couple only found a pile of wrapping paper when they looked under the tree.

Rachel said: "We searched everywhere for the phone but couldn't find it anywhere.

"I couldn't stop laughing when I saw Charlie had eaten it. But then I got worried it might make him ill."

The pair took the dog to the vet but were told Charlie should be able to pass the phone.

She added: "Suddenly it just popped out, we couldn't stay cross for long."

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One in 20 British homes is now connected to the Internet, according tothe latest official statistics.
 
This is still some way behind general computer use as nearly a third of British homes have a PC, but the survey by the Office for National Statistics shows that Britons are embracing some parts of the communications culture with gusto: 94% of households have a telephone, 22% have a mobile phone, 99% have a television, 27% have cable or satellite TV.
 
Telephone usage in particular has surged in popularity over the last 25 years. In 1972, just 42% of homes had a telephone, now nearly as many (35%) have an answering machine or service.
 
While many Britons are shy of advertising their telephone numbers - a third are ex-directory - they increasingly like talking on the move, with one in 5 households possessing a mobile phone.
 
British Telecom is beginning to lose its monopoly, now one in ten households has its telephone line supplied by a cable company other than BT.
 
Satellite and cable TV have made substantial inroads, with nearly 27% of people having either a satellite or cable receiver.
 
Even fax machines are making it into the home. Fax machines, once confined to the office, are also arriving in people's homes. Some 8% of households have a fax, with only one in five of them using it exclusively for work.
 
The survey also shows some wide regional variations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people in London and the South East are more likely to be wired. The exception is satellite and cable receivers which are most popular in the North.
 
One in ten houses in Scotland has no telephone, and the Welsh do not seem to like answerphones, with less than a quarter of households in the principality having one.
 
But if the wired generation is supposed to be leading to a rise in home working, the concept seems to be slow to catch on. The survey classes an Internet connection, a mobile phone, an answer machine and a fax machine as business links. Even in the affluent South East only 9% of households have three of the 4 links, with an Internet connection the least favourite. 
 

Alan Sugar yesterday lived up to his reputation as a consummate deal- maker by selling Dancall, Amstrad's mobile phone business, to Robert Bosch, the privately-owned German electronics giant, for pounds 92m. The price represents a return of almost six times on Amstrad's investment in loss-making Dancall in just three-and-a-half years.

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Britain’s first commercial mobile phone call was actually made by Michael Harrison, the son of Vodafone’s first chairman Sir Ernest Harrison, when he called his father at one second past midnight on January 1st 1985.  
 
But it was the press call later that day by the man with the “short, fat, hairy legs” that people remember most.
 
Comedian Ernie Wise was dressed up in Dickensian costume and riding on a 19th century Mail Coach in Parliament Square when he dialed up. He also called Sir Ernest Harrison back at Vodafone headquarters in Newbury. History hasn’t recorded exactly what Ernie said – but he may have sparked the enduring phrase….“I’m on the train….”
 
For the next nine days of 1985 Vodafone was the only company with a mobile network in the UK.
 
Updated: 14th January 1985
 
 
 

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