By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Like a bride in May, the wireless-phone industry is putting on something old and something new.
Something new includes the first 2-megapixel CDMA 1x camera phone for the U.S. market and the first cellular phone with speech-to-text conversion for simplified text messaging. Both phones are from Samsung.
Also new: the Haier brand, which unveiled U.S.-market GSM/GPRS phones.
Something old is actually an updated version of the “poor man's cellular” concept promoted in the early 1980s by RCA. UTStarcom, which recently purchased Audiovox's cellular handset business, has teamed with broadband phone company Vonage to introduce a Wi-Fi phone that lets users place calls through any Wi-Fi hot spot and through a wireless network in the home or office.
In the early 1980s, RCA proposed a technology using a wireless handset that would act as an extended-range cordless phone at home and as a cellular-like handheld phone in public venues where a base station was installed. Other companies updated the concept in the early 1990s, but they also weren't commercial successes.
UTStarcom's F1000 handset has received U.S. regulatory approval and provides all the features and functionality of a voice over IP (VoIP) terminal adapter together with a standard cordless telephone, the company said. It also lets users talk from any available Wi-Fi access point instead of just the base they have at home.
The 802.11b-equipped handset will be priced for consumers rather than the enterprise sector and will be bundled with Vonage's VoIP service for spring/summer availability. The phone, available to Vonage on a nonexclusive basis, features cellular-like cosmetics and significantly longer battery life than other handheld Wi-Fi phones, UTStarcom contends. Power management features and an energy-efficient design deliver a standby time of up to 80 hours compared to other Wi-Fi phones' eight hours, the company contends. At three to four hours, talktime is six to eight times longer than the 30-minute talktime of other Wi-Fi phones, UTStarcom added. The battery recharges in two to three hours.
UTStarcom's product manager Howard Frisch contended the phone “will be disruptive” in the local telephone market. “Consumers with Wi-Fi access in their home can replace their traditional home phone with the F1000 and start reaping the benefits of wireless VoIP phone service right away.”
The F1000 Wi-Fi portable handset supports a wide variety of VoIP features and functions, based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Service providers can offer such services as three-way calling, call waiting and call transfer. It also offers voice activity detection and echo cancellation.
Added Vonage's chairman and CEO Jeffrey Citron, “Until now, Wi-Fi phones have been considered to be capital equipment that enterprises purchased with a PBX or LAN,” said Frisch. “The F1000 is priced and sold as a consumer product. People can buy one, use it like they use a cellphone, and replace it when a more advanced phone comes on the market.”
For consumers who can't be tethered to home base-stations and Wi-Fi hot spots, companies such as Samsung, Haier and Hop-On displayed new cellular phones at International CES, here.
Samsung's A800, due in the first quarter, is promoted as the first 2-megapixel camera phone for U.S. consumers when it becomes available through an unannounced carrier in the first quarter. It will also be Samung's first phone with quarter-VGA screen resolution. It also features removable memory card, 260K-color 2-inch screen, and PictBridge-enabled transfer to compatible color printers.
Samsung's clamshell P207 will be the U.S. industry's first phone with speech-to-text conversion when it ships in the first quarter through an unannounced carrier. The 850/1,800/1,900MHz EDGE-equipped world phone features gloss-black exterior with chrome accents, MMS, e-mail support, MP3 ringtones and Wireless Village-standard instant messaging.
Another Samsung model, the P777, will be the company's first EDGE-equipped phone available to consumers. Due in the first quarter, the slider-style 850/1,800/1,900MHz GSM phone will feature 100MB internal memory to store MP3 music files, 1.3-megapixel pictures and up to 60 minutes of MPEG-4 video. It comes with stereo headset, camcorder light and 262K color display.
Samsung's first CDMA 1X EV-DO phone is the A890, due in the first quarter through an unnamed carrier. It features 1.3-megapixel camera, MPEG-4 camcorder and clamshell design.
The company's most advanced hybrid GSM/CDMA 1X phone is the a975. Availability wasn't announced at press time, but it will operate in the 800 and 1,900MHz bands in U.S. CDMA 1X networks and in the 900/1,800MHz bands in foreign GSM networks. The clamshell will feature 260K color main display, and 64MB internal memory. Additional details were unavailable.
Haier's introduction of 11 GSM/GPRS phones include the unusually designed P7, the brand's flagship. The triband GSM/GPRS phone is only 1.06 inches wide and 5.9 inches long. It features VGA camera, 65K color screen, voice command, WAP 2.0 browser, speakerphone and MMS.
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