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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Now That's A Mobile Phone

Ernie, who is providing some fascinating PopTech! coverage, writes of good news on the legal front for VoIP phone services:

A federal judge in Minnesota has ruled that Vonage's VoIP phone service (which uses broadband internet connections to handle phone calls) is an "information service" rather than a "telecommunications service." I'll bet the traditional phone companies won't like this. But consumers will.

Yeah, I'll say. The current Robert X. Cringely column in Inc. explains many of the reasons this technology is droolworthy, including the following, which gave me a big "Aha!"

But wait, there's more! I can unplug my Cisco box in California and take it to the little house we have in Charleston, S.C., where every year I try to perfect my heat rash. I plug it into the Charleston DSL line and my business line and fax line ring there instead of in California. I could do the same thing on a trip to Japan, too, and soon even that won't be necessary, because I'll be able to replace the Cisco box with software on my notebook computer—so my office line will ring at my hotel in Tokyo. I can use a computer headset to take the call or, even better, by next year I'll be able to plug a special phone into the USB port on my notebook. I completely bypass the hotel phone system. Not only am I saving on hotel charges, but my virtual phone doesn't know it's in Japan at all, so all my calls back to the U.S. are free.

If your business is bigger than mine is, an affiliate of Vonage called Vontek can route the Internet phone right into your phone switch. It can even set up a virtual PBX so people working at home can all have extensions on the office phone systems no matter where they are in the world as long as they have broadband Internet service. I might never get out of bed.

Add some well-considered digital identity to this scenario, and you're looking at the future of telecommunications.

As far as telecommunications present go, I'm happy to see that the new releases of iSync and iCal almost give full support to the Sony Ericsson P800. I can't get the calendar to sync for some reason, but the contacts are doing it nicely and that's a big step in the right direction. Web enabled phone-PDA combos are definitely the way to go if calling or emailing anyone you know without having to hunt for numbers and addresses is important to you, and the P800 1) syncs via Bluetooth with OS X, and 2) lets you wirelessly surf the Web from your Bluetooth/OS X enabled laptop in WiFi free zones. (Has a camera too, of course.)

[Update] Checking the Apple discussion boards, apparently there's a bug when it comes to recurring calendar events. After several tries, for no apparent reason (no configuration changes), mine finally synched. From the iSync team: "We are aware of the issue with recurring events syncing to the Symbian phones but we need to collect some more data to isolate and resolve the issue."

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