February 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2001 Current Issue
February 2001 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters


Some cellular phones work almost anywhere in the world, but the service is not perfect yet

International travelers will be glad to hear new services and gadgets are arriving that make it a lot easier and less expensive to stay in touch from nearly any location. Innovations such as the proliferation of cellular towers, new technology involving satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) and new multimode cellular phones with GSM (global system for mobile communications) capability have significantly reduced the costs and complications of international calling.

GSM has been adopted as the de facto standard in most of Europe and Asia, and this has permitted a more rapid implementation of new services. Unfortunately, no standard exists in the United States; we have a much more splintered cellular system. Also, most of the phones and services available here were not designed to be digital, and the ones that are work at 1900 MHz. The GSM multimode phones operate at 900/1800 MHz.

If you need global service now, you must either buy or rent a GSM-capable phone and subscribe to an appropriate service. The most popular phone models are the Ericsson T18 and T28, the Nokia 3210 and 6150, and the Motorola StarTAC and Timeport. Several companies rent dual- or multimode international phones, often available through a cellular or long-distance provider.

One company that rents GSM-compatible phones is Cellhire (www.cellhire.com), which owns more than 12,000 phones and will tailor service to fit your travel needs. To get a quote, fill out an application at the Web site. Cellhire offers free delivery within 24 hours in the United States or United Kingdom.

Another option, available from VoiceStream (www.voicestream.com), provides a removable SIM card, or smart card, that contains all your personal account information. This card can be slipped into a rental GSM phone, and the phone will then receive all calls and messages to your mobile number. Consider, though, if a colleague at a hotel down the street from you in Prague calls your U.S.-based number, the signal bounces across the ocean and back again to find you.

Also using the smart-card technology is AT&T’s WorldConnect Service (www.att.com/wireless/business). It provides international coverage for $7.99 per month; each international call is 99 cents per minute, plus long-distance charges that range from 25 cents to 95 cents per minute, depending on the country you are in.

Today’s phones receive e-mail and digital pages and can come loaded with games, organizers and more. Tomorrow’s phones will be able to deliver real Internet access, music and even videoconferencing. Variations of these devices have been released in Japan and Europe.

In November, France-based Sagem and Microsoft introduced the Sagem WA 3050 wireless Pocket PC phone, with an integrated browser using real-time connectivity. Simplified versions of Microsoft Word and Excel are included; e-mail, calendar and contacts use a version of Microsoft Outlook.

Probably the most exciting new phone is the Nokia 9210 WAP Communicator. Weighing only 8.5 ounces, it is not only GSM-compatible but has a screen with 4,096 colors, e-mail, fax, calendar, contacts, Word and Internet access. Alas, it is only available in Europe and Africa, but we can hope that in the coming years we’ll have similar toys.

G3, the next generation of mobile communications, will expand the capabilities for voice, data, video and Internet at much higher transmission rates and lower costs. For more information on GSM and the work being done, check out the GSM Association (www.gsmworld.com).

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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