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Say goodbye to another year

There was no shortage of really odd wireless stories during the past 12 months. Below are just a few of them.

January 1, 2005  

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A belated Happy New Year, everyone. It is that time to look back at the year just ended, and make predictions for the year ahead. (And for me — as a self-employed person who writes for a living because Im not good at math — wrestling with my taxes. But thats another story.)

As in previous years, 2004 had its share of new phones and other devices, killer apps, security and policy issues, and business deals in the wireless space.

None of the standard developments was particularly surprising — not even the disappearance of Microcell into the Rogers empire. (As with Clearnet before it, Microcell was stirring the industry’s pot, and it was only a matter of time before somebody put a lid on it. In any case, I wrote about this in the last issue so lets let sleeping dogs lie.)

So, I will not bore you with those. Instead, here are some of the odder, but again, sadly, not surprising stories from 2004 in which mobiles played a starring role.

Camera phones: too hot:

Camera phones were the hot gift this past holiday season (at least, that’s what the wireless companies tell us, but then again, none of them sells iPods). But are they too hot?

Newswires carried stories from around the globe of men facing charges for using camera phones to snap photos up women’s skirts on buses, in lineups, locker rooms and bars, at overpasses and elsewhere.

Gyms and schools are banning them from the premises, and businesses are worried about their potential use to conduct industrial espionage, particularly in the finance, government and high-tech manufacturing sectors. Expect to see more stories — and more *bans — in 2005.

It’s, you know, phone-shaped:

Speaking of hot phones, it was only a matter of time before people were mugged for their mobile gadgetry.

But the BBC reported that London police deal with some 2,500 claims a year in which the mobile phone never existed. Yes, people are lying about being relieved of their phones in order to get the insurance money.

The BBC also reported that a U.K. wireless company got into a scrap with a bakery. The baker, who determines baking times by plotting planetary movements, claimed that radio waves from a planned antenna installation would interfere with her ability to work with these “subtle, cosmic forces,” thereby ruining her bread.

Fashion statement:

For those who “fashion” extends to being fashionably late, but want more convincing excuses, help is at hand.

In 2004 the German company Simeda developed Soundcover, a mobile phone accessory that plays pre-recorded background noises during a call. Available fake backgrounds range from the plausible (“Traffic jam”) to the bizarre (“At the dentist,” “Circus parade”).

Moving right along, the newswire Agence France Presse reported that in Bahrain, the mobile phone number “9111119” was offered for sale in 2004 — for more than US$13,000. No word on whether anybody bought the number, but then again you could try calling it.

Air rage:

Soon, available backgrounds may include “Seatmate with air rage” — and it won’t be phony.

As the year 2004 drew to a close, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission pondered whether to allow airline passengers to use mobiles during flights, and called for public comment on the issue.

It would be premature for the wireless-dependent to celebrate, since the Federal Aviation Administration, not the FCC, determines whether phones are safe to use in the air — and even then, only in U.S. airspace.

But if one sees red at the prospect of being subjected to blather at 10,000 meters — and based on online reaction to the story, that’s a lot of us — this is not good news.

What is going to happen in the world of wireless in 2005? That’s a toughie, but it is a sure bet that handsets and humans will continue to come into contact in unexpected ways. Check back with me in a year.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached at 416-878-7730 or