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Telephone Cardboard Smashes Payphone

May 15, 2001

Mobile technologies are changing the world more and more, though it doesn't become evident right away. The Internet, for example, didn't attract much attention in the very beginning, and now it is very popular. Companies working on the Internet-market have a huge capitalization despite the last year crises when network companies' shares went down by several times. Some companies went bankrupt, and it caused disinterest to the new economic system. Nevertheless, the most dynamic developing companies are working exactly in this field. The companies are growing not only in the number: their services are extending. Among the newly appeared services the first place is taken by an e-mail. During several years the number of e-mail users in Germany (65 million) has become nearly equal to the number of inhabitants (82 million), and starting from the 1 January 2001 the postal service of Germany doesn't take international telegrams any more. Undoubtedly, there are a lot of advantages, but who could predict such a course of events yet several years ago?!

Today we are witnessing another turning-point, this time in the telecommunication history. Soon wire circuits in large cities will leave this world and become a sign either of a technical backwardness or of extreme luxury (due to expensive servicing). First of all, I mean public lines of communications, in particular payphones. Let's look at what is happening in this field today and what will be there in 15-20 years.

An the beginning of the year the mass media reported that in the USA a disposable mobile phone was created. Although this news was presented as a usual technical achievement, I' sure that this solution will bring about interesting large-scale events.

A disposable mobile phone was created by Dieceland Technologies. The name, Phone-Card-Phone, was given according its two features. First, it has a size of a phone-card (just a bit larger), and several millimeters in width. Secondly, the phone's case is made of recycled paper.

The Phone-Card-Phone is a normal cellular phone with a digital keyboard and two buttons for making a call and hanging up. The device has a connector for the telephone garniture so that you can communicate. The phone is intended to be used only for outgoing calls, and not for incoming ones, that is why its batteries work only two hours. The device's price covers the talking time cost. A standard handset for 60 minutes will be priced around $10 - it is cheaper than a plastic phone-card for payphones!!! For example, in New York such cards for local calls cost at least $3.99 for 15 minutes, up to $10 for 30 minutes. On average a minute for a local payphone call makes 25-33 cents, with a Phone-Card-Phone a minute will be only 17 cents. It means that it's high time for payphones to leave the game.

During the last 5 years the number of street payphones in the USA has reduced from 2.5 million to 2.1 million, and many operators are going to get rid of them in the near future. BellSouth, for example, plans to disable all its 143,000 payphones by the end of 2002. Payphones are not profitable any more because of the cellular communication development.

However, The Federal Communication Commission of the USA (FCC) has established new rules of payphone income distribution, which, in their opinion, will bring up to $300,000 to telephone companies annually. Now, an operator-owner will receive 24 cents for each call from an operator which processes this call. If a call is processed by several operators, the first one has to pay. Earlier, operators could refuse paying to a payphone's owner, forwarding it to another operator also processing the call. This resulted in 20-50% losses in incomes. The interest of the government agency to street payphones is accounted for by the concern for security, in particular, thus they are providing public lines of communications in settlements.

Great Britain is also worried about the current situation. British Telecom, the largest communication company in GB, has announced an interesting project, the idea of which lies in adding small cellular base stations to their payphones and leasing them to local mobile communication companies for better backing of the latter ones. BT wants its payphone network to be more profitable.

The measures taken will help to stabilize the situation for some time, but when the first Phone-Card-Phones will enter the retail market, payphones will have to abandon, first of all due to expensive servicing of landline facilities. It is possible, though, that payphones designed for long-distant calls will remain. Wide expansion of such systems will make necessary to install a great number of base stations due to a great deal of users speaking simultaneously. But this problem can be solved.

In Japan, for example, one can witness an interesting situation, here payphones are used rarely. Here is a photo of a crowded street on a week-end, the devices are not popular.

A tariff scale announced in February by an english cellular operator One2One allows speaking 3000 min a month at only 75 pounds. Unlimited tariff scales are not new, but in this case the scale became for the first time cheaper than the services of landline facilities. It means that mobile networks of third and fourth generation will easily beat the latter. Such turn becomes possible also due to the latest technical developments.

It is most probably that such devices as Phone-Card-Phones will be equipped with batteries developed by Power Paper Ltd. They have developed ultra-thin (0.5 mm) inexpensive flexible power sources. A zinc and manganese dioxide (MnO2) based cathode and anode are printed, pasted, or laminated onto paper, plastic and other media. It gives not only flexible properties but also allows to produce batteries of any form and size which require no casing to hold battery chemicals. A printed cell of Power Paper power source, a square inch in diameter (25 X 25 mm), gives 1.5 V and more than 15 mA/hour, a shelf life of the battery is 2 years. The components are not toxic and harmless for your health. Since the new technology doesn't need any special equipment, the prime cost of such sources can come to 1 cent per square inch.

There are also traditional power sources for throwaway cellular phones - zinc-oxigen batteries. The energy is released during the zinc oxidation in the air, it means they have to be in contact with the environment all the time. Their advantage is a cheap production, reliability, huge energy resource, small dimensions; besides, they are environment-friendly, i.e. they don't explore. The drawback is only that they are disposable. Zinc-oxygen batteries can make longer talktime from 3-5 (with a Li-Ion battery) to 10-17 hours, as well as standby time from 70-90 to 300 hours. The batteries were developed by an Israel company - Electric Fuel Corp.

There are also more unusual batteries, for instance a "Proton Polymer Battery", samples of which NEC is going to ship this month: an electrochemical device utilizes proton exchange type conductive polymer electrodes. The battery can be recharged in 5 minutes, the life cycle is superior: NEC recommends these batteries to be used in systems where they won't need to be replaced. Their capacity, though, is 10 times less than that of usual nickel-hydride or Li-Ion, but earlier their capacity was 100 times less.

Telespree also introduced a prototype of a disposable mobile phone. The model has a simpler handling as compared with other phones. The phone lacks for a display and keys, it can't receive incoming calls. A user says a phone number, and the phone dials it after recognition. You can also find out how long the phone will work.

The model's dimensions are similar to other phones. Disposable phones are to be sold in markets, drugstores, slot-machines. In fact, after its "death" you can change a removable unit with batteries and a time meter and use the handset again. This device is an intermediate step from a traditional cellular phone to a Phone-Card-Phone. The assumed price of such phone will be comparable with tariffs for local calls made from city payphones.

In the near future the ideology of telecommunication companies and positioning of their products will undergo severe changes. Of course, payphones won't disappear at once, but their rows will gradually thin out. However, it makes me think that some day we can be deprived of all communication facilities, since any electromagnetic disturbances affect the correct operation of cellular phones.

I don't doubt that landline facilities will develop, but soon it will be not advantageous to lay optical fiber to each payphone booth. Well, we shall see what we shall see.

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