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Government researchers have advised the public not to be alarmed by a report that mobile phones cause short-term memory loss and sudden confusion.
 
The Daily Mail carried a front page splash on a study carried out by military scientists at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency which suggested that mobile phone signals disrupt part of the brain which controls memory and learning.
 
Recent studies have already found mobiles - used by nine million people across Britain - can cause a rise in blood pressure and may harm pregnant women.
 
And they have been linked with brain tumours, cancer, headaches and tiredness.
 
But a DERA spokesman, although admitting that the research had taken place, said it was not specifically into the impact of mobile phone signals.
 
He said: "No health warning has been announced, and the research has been hyped.
 
"The radio waves tested are those that are used by mobile phones, and it is quite exciting because obviously there is an effect, but we do not know whether it is long term or short term. More research is needed."
 
DERA scientists carried out experiments on rats with money from the Defence Ministry and Department of Health. The research was based on stimulating a slice of rat brain with broadcast radio signals at levels lower than current mobile phone safety limits.
 
The spokesman said: "It was noted that there was an effect on brain activity. When the radio waves were turned on brain activity stopped or slowed down, and when they were truned off brain activity started again."
 
Dr Alan Preece, a consultant clinical scientist carrying out research into the impact of mobile phone signals on human volunteers, said it was too early for alarm.
 
Dr Preece said radio waves did penetrate the human head, but most were absorbed in the skin and skull before reaching the brain. He said: "This research is carried out on rat brain slices, and it is an awfully big step to equate it to the impact on human brains. The public should wait for the outcome of human studies before getting too worried about it."
 
Dr Preece found radio waves do have impact on short term memory in a previous study, but at much lower frequencies than those used by mobile phones.
 
Liz Francis, a spokeswoman for the National Radiological Protection Board, said further research was needed on the impact on humans, and warned against generalising from animal research. She said: "There is nothing at present to suggest any need to change our current line that it is safe to use the current generation of mobile phones."
 
Some campaigners, however, believe mobile phones should carry warning labels. Scientist Dr Roger Coghill told the Daily Mail: "Anyone who uses a mobile phone for more than 20 minutes at at time needs their head examined." Last year a US study found rats lost their ability to learn simple tasks after exposure to microwave radiation similar to that emitted by mobile phones. 
 

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The British mobile phone network provider Orange has announced a 66% price cut for its mobile phone services in a bid to compete with rival discount schemes.
 
The UK's mobile phone business is becoming increasingly competitive as firms jostle to get more people to sign up to their products.
 
The cuts from Orange come just six weeks after Vodaphone cut its tariffs and a month after Cellnet introduced a new customer loyalty scheme offering tariff discounts. 
Under Tuesday's announcement from Orange, off-peak calls will cost subscribers 5p a minute from July.
 
The company is also launching a new tariff scheme - Talk 30 - offering subscribers to the scheme 30 minutes of free calls, and a credit scheme which will refund customers for calls that are cut off.
 
Orange's share price leapt on the news as the market welcomed the company's efforts to stay competitive. At 14:19 Orange shares were 45p higher at 596 as analysts reacted positively to the tariff initiatives and bullish subscriber growth comments.
 
The company said the numbers of its UK subscribers were up 20% compared to the same period last year.
 
The Orange basic tariff compares to an off-peak rate of 2p a minute for Vodaphone and 10p a minute from One 2 One and Cellnet.
 
But One 2 One operates various special subscription schemes by which customers can get free calls at weekends or evenings, while Cellnet's First initiative launched last month offers a range of discounts schemes from 3% to 15%.
 
A Cellnet spokesman said the schemes could cut customers tariffs to as low as 2p a minute.
 
Orange also revealed there would be further tariff cuts in its pre-pay service Just Talk in the autumn and a new scheme to attack the fixed-line market.
 
Doug Hawkins, analyst at Nomura, said: "Orange obviously has felt that it has lost some of the initiative to Vodafone, and these measures look fairly aggressive in terms of giving it a strong position and attracting new subscribers. The attempt to bring in wireline customers for the first time is particularly innovative."
 
He said Orange was trying to target the single-person household, which is mostly fairly affluent. He added: "That represents a challenge to British Telecom. They are seeking to establish their position as the leading innovator in the UK mobile market and for the first time they are now trying to attract wireline users to consider mobile as an alternative."
 
 

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A 27-year-old woman suffering from a brain tumour is to become the first person in Britain to bring a personal injury claim against mobile phone makers.
 
The woman, a company director who has not been identified, is convinced she developed the life-threatening tumour from using her mobile phone. 
Her case is being handled by Tom Jones, a solicitor working for Thompsons, who claim to be Britain's largest personal injury law firm.
 
Mr Jones said: "We believe this is the first case of its kind in the UK. Our client has no family history of cancer, she has never been exposed to radiation in any other form, there's no other reason why she should have a brain tumour."
 
Mr Jones will be using research recently published in Sweden linking mobile phones with headaches and fatigue to back the case, as well as other studies which point towards potential health hazards from using phones.
 
Scientists at the National Institute of Working Life in Umea, Sweden, who questioned 11,000 mobile phone users found the longer people used them, the more likely they were to report symptoms such as hot ears, burning skin, headaches and fatigue.
 
The research team said more studies were needed to prove that it was the mobile phones that caused the symptoms. It also showed there was no substantial difference in the effects of digital and analogue phones. Mobile phone makers insisted the report did not prove mobile phones had a harmful effect.
 
Symptoms such as headaches could be caused by other lifestyle and employment factors such as using VDUs, normal telephone usage or intensive periods of concentration such as driving or using microscopes.
 
A statement from the Federation of Communication Services Limited said hot ears could be caused by the heat generated by batteries used for a long time rather than from radio signals.
 
"The selection of a controlled group - persons without mobile phones - was not in the scope of this research. Therefore one must be very careful about making any conclusions beyond the focus of the study which was to determine whether GSM (digital) users reported symptoms more than NMT (analogue) users. No such differences were found and the study provides no evidence of harmful effects from the use of mobile phones."
 

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A publicity campaign to warn motorists against driving while using hand-held mobile phones is getting into gear.

The start of the government-sponsored campaign coincides with the publication of new guidelines on the use of mobiles.

The guidelines, from the Federation of Communication Services, say drivers should never hold a mobile phone while driving.

Motorists are also advised to use hands-free mobiles only when it is safe to do so and to keep conversations short and simple.

Difficult calls and business "meetings" on the road are seen as unsafe.

The campaign is being supported by the RAC and other motoring organisations as well as the police, safety groups and the mobile communications industry.

Edmund King, the RAC's Head of Campaigns, said: "Hands-free mobile phones are, for many people, an essential part of everyday life.

"Used responsibly, they should cause no real distraction to the driver or danger to other road users."

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The telephone watchdog Oftel wants mobile phone companies to cut their prices after a study found Britain had some of the highest charges in the world.

Don Cruickshank, Director General of Oftel, also criticised British Telecom after the 12-month investigation found it was charging 10p a minute too much to call a mobile phone from a land line.

The watchdog has referred the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which will now carry out an investigation.

Operators of mobile phone networks, including Cellnet, Vodafone, One2One and Orange, are also criticised for the high cost and complex nature of the packages of tariffs and line rentals they sell.

Mr Cruickshank said he considered calls to mobile phones should be charged at about 20p per minute.

"Mobile phones are an increasingly important part of everyday life.

"They are no longer expensive toys for the few, but the cost of calling them is very high," he said.

Britain currently has 7.3 million mobile phone users but the figure is expected to hit 11 million within the next three years if prices are brought down.

The Oftel survey found the cost of a daytime call to Cellnet and Vodafone from a BT phone has fallen from 37.5p to 32p following demands made a year ago by the watchdog for prices to be cut.

BT defended its charges, saying the majority of its costs were dictated by the payment made to mobile operators for passing on calls.

It said charges had been reduced over the last 18 months and that its prices reflected the competitive UK market.

It said further reductions were "likely", but the decision to refer the matter to the MMC was unexpected: "We believe it to be unusual, if not unprecedented, for the director general to refer an issue to the MMC without having proposed and discussed potential licence changes with the interested parties."

The MMC investigation will look at the charges which BT, Vodafone and Cellnet make for calls to mobile phones.

Vodafone chief executive Chris Gent said competition was the best form of regulation and UK customers benefited from the widest choice of mobile phone services in Europe.

A recent survey suggested it would cost about £27.10 to use a mobile phone for 60 minutes in Britain compared with £10.84 in Germany.

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The British Government has commissioned a study using human guinea pigs to test whether the prolonged use of mobile phones carries serious health risks.
 
Eighteen volunteers are taking part in the study which is part of the Department of Health's radiation protection research programme. The tests, which are being carried out at Bristol University, are designed to detect short-term memory, reaction times and awareness in mobile phone users.
 
The volunteers will spend between 20 minutes to half-an-hour with a handset fixed to their heads, and carry out a series of tasks. Some of the handsets will be dummy ones, others will be real. It is part of a bigger project at Bristol University looking into the effects of microwave radiation on human beings.
 
Some scientists have suggested that radiation from mobile handsets could cause brain tumours, cancer, anxiety and memory loss, and there has been increasing concern amongst the public about the possible side-effects.
 
Dr Alan Preece of Bristol University, who is conducting the research, wrote in an article last year: "The facts are that cell phones emit either continuous microwaves at about 900 MHz or pulsed microwaves at 1.8 GHz and these must cause a small amount of tissue heating, including brain tissue."
 
Dr Preece says he has had a lot of enquiries from people worried about the effects of mobile phones. "There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence of people feeling weak, having memory problems and depression."
 
Official figures published last November showed that nearly one in five households in the UK possessed a mobile phone. 

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British police and trading standards officers are warning that a new trend in mobile phone services is being exploited by criminals.

In one case, a pensioner handed over £9,000 of life savings to bogus builders.

Pre-pay mobiles, which involve no contracts or rental charges, have been very popular since they came on the market last year.

Airtime is paid for in advance through a voucher system.

Because there are no credit checks, contracts or connection charges involved in signing up for the phone and no monthly invoices afterwards, the users are hard to trace.

But the system's anonymity is of increasing concern for law enforcement agencies.

Trading standards officers say the phones are being used by criminals to commit offences.

Senior officer Steve Playle said: "When I come to try to trace the subscriber of a mobile phone that's been used for crime it's impossible to find out who's been using that phone.

"No details will exist - they'll be anonymous basically," he said.

Because the technology is new, the problem of its criminal use is only just coming to light.

Trading standards officers are currently hunting a gang of bogus builders making use of untraceable phones.

The builders dupe people into pre-paying for work that is not needed and is never carried out.

The mobile phone industry says it will work with police to combat crime.

But trading standards officers have written to the government seeking a clampdown.

Steve Playle, a senior officer, says the authority and police want new phones to be registered.

"I'm all in favour of trying to widen mobile phone ownership but clearly the regulators have overlooked the problem that these phones can be used for crime, and that's something they really must tackle," he said.

The industry regulator, Oftel, says it will be closely monitoring the situation.

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You know what it's like ... a mobile phone rings, you dash around trying to find it. You scrabble around in your pockets and in bags but it's nowhere to be seen.

Where's the last, the very last place you'd expect to find it?

How about INSIDE a dog?

That's where Rachael Murray discovered the mobile phone she'd planned to give her flatmate!

The phone had vanished from under her Christmas tree so she dialled the number to try to find out where it had gone.

To her amazement, she heard a faint ringing from 10-stone bloodhound Charlie.

Rachel, 27, from Hendon, in north London, told The Sun newspaper: "At first I thought Charlie was lying on the phone - then I realised where it was.

"I couldn't believe he'd swallowed it. I sat there in disbelief."

She was even more mystified 24 hours later when the £29.99 Orange Nokia emerged in perfect working order after nature had taken its course.

Orange customer services gave Rachel the number so she could ring the lost phone.

A spokesman for Orange said: "The dog swallowed the phone while it was under the Christmas tree.

"All I can say is that we are delighted that customer services could help."

The phone was intended as a present for Rachel's flatmate Tony Dangerfield - but the couple only found a pile of wrapping paper when they looked under the tree.

Rachel said: "We searched everywhere for the phone but couldn't find it anywhere.

"I couldn't stop laughing when I saw Charlie had eaten it. But then I got worried it might make him ill."

The pair took the dog to the vet but were told Charlie should be able to pass the phone.

She added: "Suddenly it just popped out, we couldn't stay cross for long."

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One in 20 British homes is now connected to the Internet, according tothe latest official statistics.
 
This is still some way behind general computer use as nearly a third of British homes have a PC, but the survey by the Office for National Statistics shows that Britons are embracing some parts of the communications culture with gusto: 94% of households have a telephone, 22% have a mobile phone, 99% have a television, 27% have cable or satellite TV.
 
Telephone usage in particular has surged in popularity over the last 25 years. In 1972, just 42% of homes had a telephone, now nearly as many (35%) have an answering machine or service.
 
While many Britons are shy of advertising their telephone numbers - a third are ex-directory - they increasingly like talking on the move, with one in 5 households possessing a mobile phone.
 
British Telecom is beginning to lose its monopoly, now one in ten households has its telephone line supplied by a cable company other than BT.
 
Satellite and cable TV have made substantial inroads, with nearly 27% of people having either a satellite or cable receiver.
 
Even fax machines are making it into the home. Fax machines, once confined to the office, are also arriving in people's homes. Some 8% of households have a fax, with only one in five of them using it exclusively for work.
 
The survey also shows some wide regional variations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people in London and the South East are more likely to be wired. The exception is satellite and cable receivers which are most popular in the North.
 
One in ten houses in Scotland has no telephone, and the Welsh do not seem to like answerphones, with less than a quarter of households in the principality having one.
 
But if the wired generation is supposed to be leading to a rise in home working, the concept seems to be slow to catch on. The survey classes an Internet connection, a mobile phone, an answer machine and a fax machine as business links. Even in the affluent South East only 9% of households have three of the 4 links, with an Internet connection the least favourite. 
 

Alan Sugar yesterday lived up to his reputation as a consummate deal- maker by selling Dancall, Amstrad's mobile phone business, to Robert Bosch, the privately-owned German electronics giant, for pounds 92m. The price represents a return of almost six times on Amstrad's investment in loss-making Dancall in just three-and-a-half years.