Ringing in latest technology

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Ringing in latest technology

With the entire country gripped by World Cup fever, it hardly comes as a surprise that "Dae-Han-Min-Guk," the popular rallying cry of Korean soccer fans, is topping the mobile phone ring-tone charts.`

"Anything to help our team along," said Kim Min-ah, 16, whose sleek, metallic-looking mobile phone rings with the chant and the accompanying drumbeats in a full, 16-tone polyphonic melody. The gi, or energy, generated by the fans rooting for the team may have a hand in their performance, she explained.

Whether one believes in gi or not, one thing is for sure: Mobile phones no longer ring only in the flat, simple chimes and melodies they once did. Having a soundcard in your phone that emits a unique ring is practically a necessity for the mobile-phone trendy.

There is a drawback, however, to slavishly following the tune of the moment. "Every time I hear my melody, I reach for the phone," Ms. Kim said. "More often than not, it's the person next to me who flips open the phone. Rather embarrassing."

Despite the potential for such embarrassments, the ring-tone download is one of the most popular services offered by wireless carriers, particularly among teenagers who switch their rings as often as they switch their girlfriends or boyfriends.

"I used to have my girlfriend's voice as the ring. I had to change it when we broke up," said Lee Sang-hoon, 20, whose phone now rings with the sound of birds chirping, an unconscious call for a new mate, perhaps.

Cartoons are another hit among young subscribers. For as little as 100 won (8 cents), mobile phone users can send cartoon pictures to their friends. For those with more sophisticated phones that have just hit the market, colorful multimedia character messages are a possibility. Although they cost more than three times as much as the monochrome pictures, they are definitely more fun and elevate the status of those who carry the latest phones.

Another fun thing to do on Internet-capable wireless phones is playing games, both stand-alone and multi-user games.

You can also track down your friends using a location-based service. Nate, the wireless service brand of SK Telecom, offers a service where a subscriber can register up to 30 mobile phone numbers that have agreed to be tracked. An ideal service for anxious parents of teenagers who need to follow their kids' every move, the service displays the location of the registered handset on a map.

The incredible upgrade in mobile phone capabilities comes with the launch of the new CDMA2000 1xEV-DO. CDMA refers to a kind of mobile phone protocol and stands for Code Division Multiple Access.

EV-DO stands for Evolution Data-Optimized system.

Alphabet soup aside, EV-DO is capable of transmitting data at 2.4 megabytes per second, a staggering leap over the old system that crawled along at 144 kilobytes per second.

Multimedia content is the biggest draw of EV-DO and KTF has just launched a service that allows users to watch the video clips of World Cup highlights on mobile handsets. Wireless carriers have also taken to offering television broadcasts over the wireless Internet. The number of channels is very limited, but they do include a music channel, news and, yes, an adult channel.

The "thumb generation," known by their thumbs that have grown considerably elongated as a result of countless hours spent punching messages into their tiny mobile phone keypads, can look forward to having their thumbs grow even longer. The new generation of mobile phone service enables longer messages, up to 500 Korean letters in one message.

Not only can you send longer text messages, but built-in cameras that are becoming regular features in the sophisticated mobile handsets allow for photos to be sent as well. No longer do you need to download the picture to a PC; you can send it on the spot after taking the picture.

If still pictures will not do, operators are promising that we should soon be able to see the person at the other end of the line as we speak.

The catch with this on-the-go lifestyle is that you need to buy a mobile phone that will support these fancy services. High-quality moving pictures on the subway are not going to happen unless you have an EV-DO handset that costs upwards of 600,000 won. Without a handset with a built-in radio frequency chip, like the ones found in smart cards, do not bother placing your handset on an ATM to withdraw cash or place it on a vending machine to get a can of soda. If you are still lugging around a clunky old mobile handset with a tiny screen, be kind enough to tell your friend not to send you cartoon pictures -- you will only get half the picture, but your friend will pay full price.

The phones that are just as fancy and sleek as the latest services come at a premium. "All I do with my cell phone is make calls," said Kim Jong-ho, who works for Merit/Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm.

Indeed, anyone with any serious work to do will never find the time to go through the manuals that accompany the phones, which often reach more than 100 pages long, much less find the time to send messages.

What do you do if, like most grownups, you do not care for personalized ring-tones, cute pictures, or video clips, and do not want to reach deep into your pocket to pay for the mobile phone's features you'll never use?

A local handset manufacturer appears to have come up with the solution: A no-frills, pared-to-the-minimum mobile phone for the serious adults. It's been dubbed the "silver phone," not in reference to the phone's color, but to its the over-40 crowd market.

The substantially larger keypad means no more fumbling around with less-than-agile fingers, and a zoom-in, zoom-out function allows characters displayed on screen to be magnified up to three times.

In today's culture that places a premium on youth, however, the question is -- would anyone like to go around with a "silver phone" hanging from his neck?

by Kim Hoo-ran

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