Gothenburg, Sweden 10th June 2005: The mobile phone will evolve from a communication tool to an integrated communication device, media terminal, credit card and remote control, according to a new report released by the telecom research firm Berg Insight. Sabine Ehlers, IT and telecom analyst, has looked at the world’s most advanced mobile market, Japan, for clues on how mobile technology and consumer behaviour will evolve. “The most significant trend is that the mobile phone has become the ubiquitous tool for most personal electronic needs”, says Sabine. She explains that service providers have taken advantage of the fact that the mobile terminals follow the users wherever they go, and have made it possible to pay, check in, enter, and travel just by waving the phone in front of sensors. Five million songs have been downloaded since a service for downloading entire songs directly to the mobile handset was launched in November, and 30 million handsets with contactless chips can be used to pay with in 7 million shops throughout the country.

There are mobile phones with FM receivers and transmitters, TV capabilities and GPS systems. The mobile phones have also become safety features when they are used for tracking the whereabouts of children, as well as function as one-button alarms when the holder needs urgent assistance. In the other end, the mobile phone can be the remote control and viewer for cameras, robots and other electronics in the home from anywhere in the world and even become a satellite terminal for the home PC.

3G was introduced in Japan already in 2001 and has to date attracted more than 30 million subscribers. “Unlike what all strategists had speculated beforehand, the users did not throw themselves over video telephony or flock to the commercial video clips available for download. Instead, just like for mobile Internet on 2G, it was peer-to-peer. Contents produced by the subscribers themselves and forwarded among friends and family – that was the killer application”, says Sabine. “New features were quickly applied to personalise e-mail messages and edit media contents, and periphery products were used to print or transfer them.”

The Japanese industry is now since several years hard at work developing 4G, with field trials having commenced. The long-term vision shared by industry, academia and policy makers alike is however looking beyond mobile, with the keyword being ubiquitous, i.e. that computers will become integrated with our environment, making everyday things around us connected and intelligent. This raises a number of technical, ethical and social challenges, which are currently being debated and discussed in all IT related organisations and forums around Japan.

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Published on: 12:00AM on 10th June 2005