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Cell phone inventor admonishes industry

Posted: 30 Dec 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless industry  cell phone  cellular management  wired phones 

Cooper reminded designers that "good technology is transparent; the best technology is invisible."

Cell phone inventor Martin Cooper discussed the five problems of the wireless industry and suggested solutions at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston last October. Cooper, now chairman of ArrayComm LLC, noted that the cell phone and wireless connectivity have not only made us mobile, they have changed our way of thinking: With wired communications, you called a phone, hoping to get the right person, but with wireless, you call the person directly.

Despite what you assume, most cell calls are made indoors, yet the base stations are outdoors. This wastes power and impedes bandwidth reuse. His solution: increased use of femtocells and microcells installed in buildings. The backhaul and cellular management infrastructure will see some additional burden, but the benefits more than make up for it.

The Internet proves that an open network is good, but the mindset of cell phone service providers is a holdover from the days of AT&T and wired phones, providing a "walled garden." This impedes innovation and forces the user to adapt to the product. Cooper said we need open methods, where different devices can be connected, without being beholden to the service provider. As a positive example, he cited the ultra-simple Jitterbug cell phone he carries. It's a basic cell phone: no menus, no camera, with simple keys for each of its few functions. The recently announced Android platform may be a step in this direction.

The Jitterbug cell phone has no menus and camera, and has simple keys for each of its few functions.

Supporting wide bandwidth and high data rates costs real power and money, yet providers splash the power around in all directions. Smart antennas that dynamically focus their pattern to match user needs offer a better alternative.

Service providers have accustomed customers to the idea that they can get something (the handset) for nothing, then try to persuade them to throw away that something for an even better something. A better solution is to allow users to buy just the phone they want, one that fits their needs.

The trend towards a combination-function, universal handset that does voice, video, music, data, and more burden both the handset designer and end-user, and the product doesn't do any of these really well. Again, allowing the user to select a unit that more closely fits their needs is a better approach.

Service providers have used their spectrum monopolies to control users and increase apparent capacity, said Cooper, without delivering promised bandwidth or QoS. He, however, conceded the latter is improving.

- Bill Schweber
EE Times

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