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Walking in a wireless wonderland

Phones and digital cameras dispense with cables to link up to LANs

The Ceatec show in Japan has been showcasing the future of wireless technology, with manufacturers touting wireless digital cameras and mobiles that can dial via a wireless LAN.

Mitsubishi took the wraps off a prototype mobile phone (pictured) that is able to place calls via wireless LAN networks in addition to conventional mobile telephone networks. The handset looks like a normal mobile telephone, but has a CompactFlash card slot on the rear into which the user can plug a networking card.

"This is the first in a new style of mobile telephone," said developer Kazuyoshi Kojima of Mitsubishi's silicon devices technology department. "If you want to change the network, you just pull out one card and plug in another," he said while demonstrating the handset.

Such a design has some advantages for mobile telephone makers. Because the radio portion of the telephone is in a plug-in card and not part of the handset, manufacturers can easily put the handsets on sale in almost any country and avoid the often time-consuming and expensive radio frequency testing that is required by regulatory authorities in most countries. The cards will still need to be approved, but many are already available.

For users it also becomes possible to swap cards to match whatever wireless network is available or, as Kojima suggested, to match your mood by switching between work- and play-orientated handsets. Coupled with an IP telephony service provider, the telephone can also in theory be used anywhere in the world in which a wireless LAN connection to the internet is available.

The company hopes to launch these devices sometime after March 2003 (the end of the Japanese fiscal year).

But it's not just phones that could be taking advantage of wireless communication. Sanyo also has plans to allow its digital cameras to link up to a wireless LAN to download images.

The system, which is still in the prototype stage, saves images directly to a server on the internet rather than to a memory card. Offering greater storage and simple downloads.

The company developed the system for commercial users, some of which have to take images and then send them back to a central server as soon as possible, said Ryu Katayama, a senior manager at Sanyo's technology R&D headquarters.

Pressing the button to take an image results in the image appearing within seconds on the hard drive of a network server, from which other people can be given access.

Katayama sees a variety of uses for the system.

"It can be used on a construction site, where images need to be taken to prove that something has been done," said Katayama. "We have had interest from many companies including newspapers which want to get images from late baseball games into the morning newspaper."

Its prototype is a slightly modified Sanyo digital still camera. The internal software has been rewritten to support writing to a server and driver software for a wireless LAN card has been added. The card connects in the Compact Flash slot usually used by memory cards.

Trials of the system have just begun and are expected to last into next year at which time Sanyo will decide whether to commercially offer the service.


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