The biggest and most obvious change is the rapid take-up of mobile phones. Twelve years ago, they were only for the wealthy, and had a “yuppie” image. Seven years ago they were still rare. Now there are more mobile phones than households in the UK, and numbers are still growing fast.
We are approaching the time when it will be considered unusual not to have a mobile phone. Projections suggest that the majority of voice calls will be mobile-mobile within a few years, and fixed lines will mostly be used for data connections. The logic is clear: why would you phone a building when you want to speak to a person?
All this depends on pricing, of course. HSCSD was booming on Orange, then they changed the pricing structure. The cost of calling a mobile phone from a fixed phone is prohibitive to many people. A small marketing decision to alter charges can have a big effect on how services are used.
SMS text messaging has become the communication medium of choice for many in their teens and twenties, despite the very high cost, and is the only really new form of communication to have emerged in decades.
As price competition forces margins down, the mobile networks are moving to offer additional services to increase revenue and customer commitment. Internet access, information by SMS and WAP and services such as Orange’s Wildfire are applications for existing technology, but provide new services. We have HSCSD and GPRS (giving faster data speeds), though priced rather too high for widespread use. Just arriving are mobile videophones, built in PDAs and email clients, and probably much more than that, following from 3G networks being launched.
Mobile phones are evolving fast. Today’s latest handset model is new for just a few weeks, and obsolete in a few months. The network technologies used are moving on as fast.
The next generation of mobile phone systems has reached the point where the five UK licences for the “third generation” (3G) frequencies have fetched over £20,000,000,000 for a 20 year allocation. This new Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) network will offer much faster data access, more capacity and more. It is likely that it will supplant some of what we have taken as the work of fixed-line phones, as well as mobile phones. However, the huge price paid for the licenses suggests that these facilities won’t come cheap!