New Cell Phone Services Aim To Attracting Roving Video Buffs

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New Cell Phone Services Aim To Attracting Roving Video Buffs

'Generation 2.5' Services Seen As First Step to Introduction of Full Multimedia in Your Pocket

The dream of communication anywhere, anytime may be closer to becoming a reality than you imagined.

Some visionaries predict that third-generation wireless telecommunications, using a device that functions as a phone, a computer, a television, a pager, a videoconferencing center, a newspaper, a diary and even a credit card will revolutionize the way we communicate, work and live.

While it now seems unlikely that the IMT-2000 service, the local name for the third-generation service, will roll out in time for the soccer World Cup in May 2002, there is a service that will soon be commercially available that is sure to whet your appetite for next-generation wireless telecom services.

The new service, IS-95C or "2.5 generation" service, because it is midway on the evolutionary path between the current second-generation and the promised third generation, the latest in wireless communication offers a preview of things to come a few years down the road. In fact, except for a slower data transmission speed of 144 kilobits per second in contrast with third generation's two megabits per second IS-95C offers most of the services that will be available with later using the present radio bands of 800 megahertz for cellular and 1.7-1.8 gigahertz for personal communications system (PCS) services. If the speed sounds meaningless, consider this: IS-95C will allow users to send the information in 100 pages of A4-sized paper in just six seconds.

The wireless telecommunications sector has always been a very competitive market and the five wireless telecom companies - SK Telecom, Shinsegi Telecom, Korea Telecom Freetel, Hansol M.Com and LG Telecom, in various strategic combinations - are in the process of developing content that best exploits the new technology.

The operators are betting that video services will drive demand for the new service. Another convenient service that could potentially increase revenues at the telecommunications companies is a mobile payment system allowing wireless subscribers to make electronic transfers of money via their handsets.

SK Telecom and Shinsegi Telecom have real-time news in the pipeline as well as movie previews and a cartoon service - all on streaming video. A service that allows the users to download music is also expected to be a hit with the younger generation.

Korea Telecom Freetel and Hansol M. Com together plan to provide stock quotes with graphics, traffic news and sports broadcasts in addition to movie previews and music videos.

LG Telecom has in its arsenal a video-on-demand service that allows its subscribers to download movies to watch on their wireless handsets. The company, whose network Java games are among its most popular value-added services, is planning to exploit its lead in the sector, offering more elaborate video, graphics and sound support for network games.

Precisely when the general public will be able enjoy all the promised features of this intermediate telecommunications service remains murky at the moment. "My guess is that May would be the earliest possible date. However, consumers will probably have to wait until the second half of the year for the full range of services, including streaming video in color," said Yoon Kyung-hoon, spokesman for LG Telecom.

The reason for the delay in service rollout, which had been scheduled for early this month, is the unavailability of handsets that support IS-95C. "If you live in Seoul or Taejon and can get hold of a handset, you can get the service right now," said an official at SK Telecom, which has completed setting up its network in Seoul and Taejon. The company said that the service could be widely available as early as the end of this month when handsets are expected to become available in quantity.

Korea Telecom Freetel and Hansol M.Com are plagued by similar problems. While IS-95C handsets featuring four tones of grey are available, the companies would rather wait until early May when handsets supporting color video arrive. At the moment, the two PCS companies are offering limited service in Seoul and surrounding areas. "Some 1,000 people have been using the service since March 5 using the grey-tone handset supplied by Samsung Electronics," said a Korea Telecom Freetel official. Handsets that support video on demand are currently being tested and are expected to hit the shelves sometime next month, according to the wireless subsidiary of Korea Telecom.

There are two handsets currently available that support the new services. Samsung Electronics last month introduced light, thin cdma2000 1X handsets weighing 64 grams. At just 13 millimeters thick, they are available in both single folder model (SCH-X110) and dual folder model (SCH-X120). Both types have wide-screen liquid crystal displays that can display up to eight lines of text.

The dual folder model, with a four-line display on the outside, will allow the user to check who is calling without flipping the phone open - once caller ID service is introduced next month - as well as read incoming text messages. When used with cdma2000 1X service, the phone has a maximum standby time of 290 minutes with a standard battery, an improvement on the performance of other handsets, according to the company.

An older model put out by LG Electronics at the end of last year, Cyber-iXi weighs a bit more at 75 grams and has a substantially shorter standby time at 135 minutes using a standard battery. Also featuring an eight-line four grey wide display, the cdma2000 1X handset has two "hot buttons" that take the user directly to his or her favorite functions.

However, unless you are an early bird for new technology, desperate to get your hands on the latest gadgets, and don't mind spending about 500,000 won ($400) on a handset, it would perhaps be wise to wait for the full-color handsets to arrive in a month or so.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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