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Near-Future Telecommunication

By LEG (LEG@telekabel.at)

These are some thoughts on telecommunication devices of the very near future (early TL8).

Telephones in General

The telephone of early TL8 has a small touch screen (about the size of a hand) that controls most functions. Mass-produced greyscale touch screens are actually cheaper than ordinary numerical keyboards! There is still a receiver, but no cord. Every phone can accept limited programming and run very simple software for answering services, phone directories, cost control, etc.

Luxury models have color screens, small keyboards and support for e-mail, fax (is displayed on the screen and printed on  a computer printer),  videophone technology (though the image quality at early TL8 is not good except in the most advanced countries, or just in-house), web surfing and many other goodies.

Telephone Services

There are hundreds of different services for telephone users. The telecom provider will run some of them, other can be bought from independent companies. These services run on specialized versions of current internet protocols, and may also copy some of the not-so-good things on Internet ("First my phone gets spammed, and now a virus!!").

The GM can use telecommunication services as a way to influence the adventure in many ways:

Cellular Phones

The cellular Phones of early TL8 are tiny, highly advanced machines. Cheap, simple models ($30, 1/2 pound) are available to everyone, and state-of-the-art models cost $150-500 and have negligible weight. Cheaper models still have keys, the better phones have a touch screen or can recognize simple spoken commands ("Call one-three-five-nine-nine-seven-two") and store numbers by name ("Call Joe"). The smallest phones are just a set of headphones with a short antenna, or come disguised as pens or watches.

Every Cellular Phone - size permitting - has a screen the size of a business card that serves as a touch screen and display, and sufficient computing power to run some very simple applications, such as small databases of names, phone numbers, and other information (digital business cards), a to-do-list, calculator, world clock (which gets the time signal from the cellular network) and some nicknacks.

Every Cellular Phone can be connected to a computer, and load or unload data. Day planner software of early TL8 can load an digital phone directory with 500-1.000 entries onto a phone. Every Cellular Phone can receive short text messages like a pager, send and receive voice messages as e-mail and receive or send normal e-mail up to 1MB in size. Composing the mail is a problem on a Cellular Phone without a sophisticated input device.

All cities have cellular networks, and it is possible to create a temporary network very quickly with airships or planes as transmitters. Some small town do not even bother to keep the regular telephone network operational. The cost for cellular service is $20/month on average, but the cost for heavy users can be considerable. The GM can say that regular cellular service (no excessive bills!) is part of the Cost of Living for anybody of Status 0.

Note that all cellular phones (even today!) send signals to the nearest transmitter to tell the network where they are - this is how a call reaches the phone no matter where it is. Early TL8 tracking technology can transform any cellular phone into a homing transmitter that can  give the location of the phone with an accuracy of half a block. It is possible to avoid this by using anonymous prepaid phone cards (and changing them often!), hiring somebody to buy a phone under his name and giving it to you, switching the phone off most of the time and having callers speak a message on your personal message service, or getting a Personal Network Phone.

Personal Network Phone

One answer to excessive cellular telephone cost is to buy a Personal Network Phone. This is fixed radio transmitter/receiver that establishes a connection between any number of cellular phones within its normal radio range that have a special access code. Great for cheap communication in a small area (skyscraper, base camp etc.). The operators of regular cellular networks cannot tell where the cellular phones are as they respond only to the network transmitter. Locating a phone requires special homing equipment.

Cellular Videophone

The latest thing in personal telecommunication is the Cellular Videophone, a device the size of a big Cellular Phone with a screen the size of a business card and a tiny camera. The quality of the video images is average, to say the least, and the cost is quite high ($ 350 for the phone, at least $50 a month for the high-speed service). Cellular Videophones are quite useful to spies and police undercover agent, though the mediocre quality of the images makes their use in court a problem.

ScanPhone

This is a Cellular Phone with a tiny scanner and some OCR software. It can read phone numbers and names from business cards, printed phone directories, newspaper ads etc. with a quick pass, and transfer them to the internal phone directory. The user just picks the entry from a list and hits the "call" button. Cost is $200 or so, weight is 0,5 pounds.

Souped-up ScanPhones (bigger storage, better scanner, cost $500) make good espionage devices.

Pocket Pal

This is a Tiny Computer (p. UTII32) with a cellular telephone built in. The official name for these machines is "Telecomputer", but they are known as "Pocket Pals" after the most successful product. The device is a progressive development of current electronic organizers, combined with

Cellular Phone functions. It looks like an organizer with two small, touch-sensitive screens, one of which displays data and the other displays the control elements (virtual keyboard, slide

controls etc.). The control screen is normally transparent and accessible from both sides of the casing, which means that it can be used to control some functions (dialling, answering machine, pager service) when the Pocket Pal is closed. It comes with a small suite of software for telecommunication (Address book, answering machine, fax and e-mail software, internet access), and other software can be loaded as well.

Tiny Computers can only run Complexity 1 software, but a full array of scaled-down business software is available, such as simple word processors, spreadsheets and database programs. Pocket Pals are ideal for mobile workers who have to send and receive short e-mail and fax messages on the move, but cannot replace office computers.

A Pocket Pal runs on a tiny fuel cell that provides energy for about a week of regular use. More advanced models run on power cells like a normal Tiny Computer. Halve the life of the Cell if the phone is used a lot.

The above description applies to a state-of-the art model that is already TL8 in most respects ($600, 1 pound). There should be countless inferior products that cost only half of the above price, but have lots of problems, from bad reception and buggy software to weak batteries and screens.

Satphone

This is a device that resembles a fat cellular telephone, but does not require a local cellular phone net. It transmits directly over satellites. The device can operate anywhere on Earth, but the quality is not quite as good as that of normal cellular phones, and the costs of the service are high. A typical Satphone is 1 pound and costs $200, service costs are $1/minute, and all Satphones can also use the local cellular network to save money.

How much of this is real?

A futuristic telephone with all possible frills is available from Samsung (http://samsungelectronics.com/internetproduct/index02.html).

Cellular phones are already common. Alcatel (http://www.alcatel.com/) offers a cellular phone with a touch screen instead of a regular keyboard (http://www.alcatel.com/telecom/mbd/products/products/detailed/gsm/otc.htm).

A forerunner of the Pocket Pal exists in the form of the Communicator 9110 by Nokia (http://www.nokia.com/sensations/9110.html).

The Satphone already exists; a good example is the Globalstar network (http://www.globalstar.com/).

There is no ScanPhone as far as the author can tell, but there is already the Quicktionary by WizCom Technologies Ltd. (http://www.quicktionary.com/), a small translation device that scans, reads and translates words. Image that device, with a broader scanner, more software "smarts" and  a cellular phone, and you have the ScanPhone.