T-Mobile UK launches picture messaging

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The T-Mobile network is to launch the UK’s first picture messaging service via mobile phones this weekend.

The service will cost an extra £20 a month, and will also give users internet access and unlimited text messages.

The success of picture messaging is seen as vital for mobile phone operators, who are betting on data services to drive growth in the industry.

The new services come ahead of the introduction of third generation – or 3G – mobile phone services, which will allow people to watch moving images on their phones.

Companies have spent billions of pounds on 3G licences, but many industry watchers have questioned whether people will want to pay for the services.

“We think this is a very very important step towards 3G,” T-Mobile’s UK chief executive Harris Jones said.

And Mr Jones said he was confident that the service would be popular – despite the price.

“I think that it’s proven that customers are very interested in transmitting and communicating with each other.

“We know from early indications in Japan that picture messaging is going to be the most compelling data service in the industry.”

However, text messaging services have been particularly successful with the teenage market, so a monthly £20 fee may be seen as prohibitively expensive.

In order to be able to use the new service, T-Mobile customers will have to use a Sony Ericsson T68i handset.

The phone has an extension to plug in a camera. Once digital pictures are recorded, they can be sent on.

Customers can also access a T-Mobile picture messaging centre that has a gallery of pictures available to brighten up the phone’s screen.

Later this year a Nokia handset will be available with a built-in camera.

Mr Jones said he thought the ability to send pictures would be very popular when people are on holiday, as they could send snapshots back to friends and family in the UK.

“In many respects we’re tackling the postcard market place, which is a £50bn a year market place,” he said.

“The £20 fee that’s been noted is actually a comprehensive fee that will include all of your data transmission.

“It’s e-mail, it’s picture messaging, it’s anything you want to do in terms of data from the phone.”

The T-Mobile network in the UK was until last month known as One2One. It was rebranded in April by its parent company Deutsche Telekom.

It’s a hamster on your mobile. Or possibly Kylie

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Text messages always seemed a bit low-tech, with their code-like abbreviations. But that could all be about to change.

Instead of having to read all those text messages, how would you like a talking hamster or even a pint-sized popstress Kylie Minogue to read them out to you?

Mobile phone firms are desperately hoping you won’t be able to resist the temptation.

This year will see them start to try to convince you to swap your boring old handset for one with a colour screen that can send and receive messages containing music, video and images as well as unlimited amounts of text.

The numbers of new people subscribing to mobile networks is slowing, so phone firms are hoping the services will help squeeze more cash out of their existing customers.

Unfortunately, before now there have been no handsets available to sell to consumers.

This will change in the next few months as handset makers such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and Motorola start producing them.

To encourage people to start sending pictures phones like the Nokia 7650, Sony Ericsson P800 and Ericsson’s T68i have cameras that can take low resolution colour snaps.

Before now the proprietary software running on handsets made by different manufacturers has stopped the phones readily swapping messages that use more than just text.

The basic format for multimedia messages has been agreed by almost all handset makers so all phones should be able to swap them.

We even know how much it will cost to send one of these multimedia messages because two phone firms, Vodafone and Telenor, have revealed prices.

Vodafone will charge 26p per message and Telenor 83p.

But in trying to convince customers to sign up for multimedia messaging (MMS) phone firms face a dilemma said John Delaney, a principal analyst at market research firm Ovum.

Typically, European mobile phone users have a new handset every 15-20 months which could mean it takes time for significant numbers of people to sign up, said Mr Delaney.

“They are all aware it’s going to take time,” he said.

The fact that text messaging is hugely popular – 75 billion were sent worldwide during the first three months of 2002 – might boost take-up but the expensive handsets could dissuade some.

The phone firms could decide to encourage customers by subsidising the cost of handsets, but this may not sit well with investors.

“The phone firms are trying to move away from subsidy and trying to convince the market they are trying to move away from it,” said Mr Delaney.

Then there are the technical problems of all those large messages rattling around the mobile networks.

Text messages are one size, 140 bytes, and the cost of transporting them across the network is fixed.

By contrast, said Mr Delaney, multimedia messages could vary significantly in size.

A 300 character text message will be much smaller than a still picture, which itself will be smaller than a video clip.

Then there is the problem of the messages themselves.

Anyone can put together a text message but images, sounds and video all need preparing before they can be used to deliver a message.

This is where the talking hamster comes in.

British-firm Anthropics is one of many companies working with handset makers and mobile operators to ensure that, unlike Wap, when multimedia messaging arrives you can do something with it.

Anthropics has developed a way of modelling facial expressions by watching the movement of 120 key locations on someone’s head and shoulders.

“Faces are very similar to other faces and not to other objects, which means we can hold the difference between faces rather than the face itself,” said Andrew Berend, chief executive of Anthropics.

The company has developed players for handsets that use information about the movement of these 120 nodes to make a static, scanned image talk.

The image could be of anyone, or anything. Mr Berend said one of the most popular was the talking hamster that can be used to deliver text messages, read the news or even sing.

Gary Corbett, managing director of Opera Telecom which creates content for phones said multimedia messaging could take off quickly because we already use SMS so much.

“I don’t expect people to use phones much more differently when it’s multimedia,” he said.

The difference will be in what they are presented with be it polyphonic 16-bit ringtones, colour wallpaper for their phone screen, 40 frame cartoons, or music streamed via Wap.

“Phones are now fun,” said Mr Corbett, manufacturers differentiate themselves by functions and the content that goes along with it.”

All the phone operators have to hope now is that their customers answer the call.

British love of mobiles flourishes

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The British public’s love affair with their mobile phones shows no sign of declining, with research suggesting one in five spend a quarter of the day using their mobile.

Sales of mobile phones have slowed down in recent months, but people who own one are using them more, according to a survey commissioned by the First Direct bank.

The report suggests most phone users will happily drop whatever they are doing to answer their mobiles.

One in three owners surveyed said they used their phones more now than they did a year ago.

Almost 200 million calls are now made every day in the UK.

The survey suggested that most phone owners hardly ever have their mobile switched off.

Nearly one in five of those questioned said they would answer their phone even if they were out on a date.

One in three said they use them to chat in the bath, while one in 10 admitted to taking calls while at the cinema.

The survey of 1,000 16-year-olds and above also suggests texting is becoming more and more popular.

The number of adults who now send text messages regularly has risen from 19% to 28% over the past year.

Mobile telephone sales fell for the first time in the industry’s history in 2001.

Global sales came in at 399.6 million phones during the year, down 3.2% compared with the previous year.

The fall was blamed on the saturated markets in Europe and on the damage done to the new phone market in developing countries where the second-hand phone market is flourishing.

Mobile top ups from cash machines

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Mobile users will soon be able to top up their phones from cash machines as Orange teams up with bank Abbey National.

The mobile top-up service will be available to any Abbey National customer who has an Orange pay-as-you-go phone.

The service will be piloted this month and will be rolled out to Abbey National’s 3,000 ATMs in the UK by the autumn.

Similar services introduced across Europe have proved popular with customers.

Mobile users will just have to follow a few simple steps via the ATM screen to have credit of up to £50 added to their phone.

Orange Belgium has offered such a system for three years and 30% of its pay-as-you-go customers now use it.

Electronic transactions firm Euronet is providing the technology.

It has already launched similar services with a dozen other mobile operators in Europe.

The next stage for mobile phones will be using them to pay for other transactions.

Although this has been slow to take off several mobile payment services are now up and running.

In London, some bars, restaurants and hotels around Soho are already offering customers the choice of mobile payments.

Shopping with your mobile phone

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How far in the future is the cashless city? Well, if you look hard enough, you can already catch the odd glimpse of it.

The future does not arrive all at once, especially when technology is involved.

Instead, bits of it turn up in different places at different times, reaching some neighbourhoods much earlier than others.

If you’re not one of those on the edge, you have to take a day trip, which is exactly what I did. I had a day out – well, four hours – in the future.

The future in question is where we use our mobile phones instead of credit cards or cash to pay for anything we do.

This particular future has started to arrive in the West End of London where some restaurants, hotels and cinemas are starting to let people pay bills using a mobile payment system called Paybox.

The service started in Germany in May 2000 and now has 750,000 members worldwide. The UK service was launched in September 2001.

The afternoon in the future began with a journey to Soho in a taxi provided by cab firm Chauffeur Force.

Managing director Glen Coward said he signed up with Paybox in February because it would work well with the company’s customers.

The majority of the 12,000 journeys his taxis do every month are for account customers, all of whom are armed with mobile phones.

Paying for the cab with my mobile had a definite feel of the friction free future about it.

There was no frantic rummaging for cash in pockets or worries that the journey would cost more than I had in my wallet.

Instead, all I got was an automated phone call from Paybox asking me to confirm the payment to Chauffeur Force. Soon after, a text message arrived as a receipt.

“You can’t guarantee the delivery of an SMS so we don’t use it for the payment process,” said Barry Shrier, a spokesman for Paybox and a fellow traveller to the future.

The disadvantage of Paybox, and its rivals, is that you have to sign up before you can use it. Unlike cash, you can’t get it out of a hole in the wall and spend it.

Next stop was Soho’s chic Circus restaurant which was one of the first places in the UK to accept Paybox as a payment system.

Again, paying for a round of drinks was a breeze. All I did was write my mobile number on the bill and soon after got another call from Paybox asking me to confirm the payment.

“We do more transactions with Paybox than Diners Card,” said Angus Agnew, manager of Circus.

He said some people go to Circus simply because they can pay their bill with the phone and swank a little in front of the fiercely forward-looking Soho media crowd.

The fact that they have to answer a ringing phone to pay the bill does not bother him or any of the other diners.

“We live in a world where mobile telephones are everywhere,” he said. “Unless you are sitting in a snooty three-star Michelin restaurant people don’t care.”

After a few drinks, I moved on to the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square which lets people pay for tickets with Paybox.

Nicole Bailey, marketing manager for the cinema, said the service was popular with many students who take advantage of its low prices because, again, all of them are armed with mobiles.

The only disadvantage I could see of paying with a mobile for tickets is that it takes a little longer than cash. On a busy night for a popular film that delay might irritate others in the queue.

It’s not just in the real world that it is trying to gain a foothold. Some websites are using it to help them sidestep fraudsters using stolen credit cards.

Adam Freeman, chief executive of Phunky Phones, said in the early days of his site 20% of transactions were fraudulent.

“We were giving away more money than we were bringing in,” he said.

With systems like Paybox, fraud is eliminated because every transaction has to be authorised. Even access to a member’s account on the Paybox website has to be confirmed via the mobile.

Final stop was a hotel and bar called West Street which sits off Charing Cross Road. It too has a fiercely fashionable clientele who like the idea of paying with their mobile phone.

West Street manager Russell Norman said on a busy day they would have two or three people paying with Paybox.

Barry Shrier said Paybox was signing up a few restaurants and shops itself to demonstrate how the system worked, but had no plans to go door-to-door in towns and cities signing up merchants individually.

It would take an army of salesmen years to do that job, he said.

Instead, it wants to become like Visa and operate the processing service behind the scenes.

Now it is working to sign deals with companies and organisations that handle transactions for shops, hotels and restaurants. Once it signs up these organisations, huge numbers of businesses will be able to accept payment by Paybox almost overnight.

When it does, you’ll wake up and find that the future has finally arrived in your town.

How to hack your mobile phone

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Changing the ID number of your phone is as easy as swapping the font in a word processing document. Software programs that let you alter this 15-digit number can be readily bought via the web.

Some sites even sell “chipping” kits that bundle cables and software together into one package for less than £50.

With this software and a cable that connects the phone to a laptop or PC, the number can be changed in a few moments.

“It’s not very difficult; anyone could do it,” said Jack Wraith, head of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum.

He said different chipping programs changed different parts of the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number borne by GSM handsets.

The 15-digit IMEI is programmed into a handset when it is manufactured.

It is made up of identifiers that reveal where the handset can be used, which factory made it, a unique serial number and a check digit that ensures the whole number is valid.

Like credit card numbers, only certain strings of 15 digits are valid. Chipping software is built using algorithms that work out valid combinations of numbers.

Mr Wraith said the software packages typically changed either the last two numbers in an IMEI or the entire 15-digit number.

You can check the IMEI number of a GSM phone, which prevail in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, by dialling *#06#.

Mobile networks that do not use GSM technology do not use IMEI identifiers.

Mr Wraith said by the end of the summer all the UK’s mobile phone networks would be able to block phones by their IMEI numbers.

Currently O2 and Vodafone, which operate the UK’s oldest mobile networks, are the only ones that cannot block by IMEI number.

Laws being introduced in Britain will make it an offence to sell kits that allow IMEI numbers to be changed.

“There’s no legal reason, or very few legal reasons, for that number to be changed,” said Mr Wraith.

But he said the introduction of IMEI blocking might not reduce the number of phones being stolen.

“A mugger who takes your wallet isn’t going to leave you with a phone to call the police,” he said.

However, it would reduce the saleable value of a stolen phone to almost zero, he said.

New law on mobile phone theft

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A new law will make it an offence to reprogram a mobile phone, it is reported.

A Home Office spokeswoman has confirmed the government will unveil “a new measure” against mobile phone crime on Friday.

A bill on mobile phone reprogramming is due to be published in the House of Lords, she said.

The Times newspaper reports that the emergency legislation will make it an offence to reprogram a mobile phone by putting a new identity number on a stolen handset.

It says the Mobile Phone (Reprogramming) Bill could lead to jail sentences of up to five years for anyone caught doing so.

Mobile phone operators have already agreed to exchange lists of the unique 15-digit handset identity numbers, known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, which are programmed on manufacture.

Thus, when a phone is reported stolen, its number can be recognised by other networks and they can refuse to connect it.

However, this system alone does not make stolen handsets impossible to use.

Some thieves with specialist software can still change the handset identity number, or alter it to disguise its origin.

This makes it impossible for the manufacturers to trace the handsets, and they can then be sold on.

While some mobiles are sent abroad for reprogramming, gangs also carry out the operation in Britain, and resell the handsets for between £10 and £60, the Times reports.

The government move to tackle this trade is likely to be welcomed by the industry.

Phone security experts have for some time been calling for the changing of the IMEI number to be made illegal.

Jack Wraith, executive secretary of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum, told The Times: “We see this as another piece of the crime prevention jigsaw and fully support this type of initiative.”

Official figures showed that 700,000 handsets were stolen in England and Wales last year, many in violent attacks.

Tough penalties for mobile phone theft

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Mobile phone thieves could face a five-year prison sentence under new proposals unveiled by the government.

A Bill published by the Home Office on Friday will make it a criminal offence to reprogram stolen phones to create a new number so they can be used again.

The new tougher penalties aim to curb the growing menace of mobile phone related street crime.

Those found guilty of reprogramming could face jail terms of up to five years or unlimited fines.

The new Mobile Telephones (Reprogramming) Bill would also make it illegal to own or supply any of the equipment for reprogramming handsets.

The Bill has been welcomed by police and the phone industry.

Home Office minister John Denham said: “Mobile phone thefts have been a key factor in rising street crime – stolen mobiles are now involved in 50% of all robberies in London.

“The Bill being published today builds on the concerted action being taken across government to tackle street crime.”

Tim Godwin, a Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) of the Metropolitan Police, said: “Mobile phones are quickly turned into cash by thieves.

“This measure will reduce their value to a thief and therefore we strongly support and welcome it.”

About 700,000 mobile phones were stolen last year, many in violent attacks.

Mobile phone operators have already agreed to exchange lists of the unique 15-digit handset identity numbers, known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, which are programmed on manufacture.

Thus, when a phone is reported stolen, its number can be recognised by other networks and they can refuse to connect it.

However, this system alone does not make stolen handsets impossible to use.

Some thieves with specialist software can still change the handset identity number, or alter it to disguise its origin.

This makes it impossible for the manufacturers to trace the handsets, and they can then be sold on.

Phone security experts have for some time been calling for the changing of the IMEI number to be made illegal.

Jack Wraith, of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum, said the Bill would help reduce thefts.

“The activities of individuals involved in the reprogramming of stolen mobile devices has, for too long, allowed stolen mobile phones to be reprogrammed with impunity,” he said.

 

Trains ‘trap mobile phone radiation’

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Train passengers who hate it when other commuters use mobile phones on board may have every right to get angry.

Research carried out by scientists in Japan suggests that using a mobile phone inside a train carriage could have serious health risks for other passengers.

They found that electromagnetic radiation levels inside trains can exceed international safety limits if even a small number of passengers are using their phones. This is because the microwave radiation emitted from handsets has effectively no where to go and simply bounces back off the carriage’s metal structure.

Tsuyoshi Hondou, from Tohuku University, used the plans of a typical train carriage to calculate the impact of mobile phone mivrowave radiation.

He found that very little radiation managed to escape through windows and was instead reflected inside.

He discovered that if just 30 people in a standard carriage with 151 passengers used their phone radiation levels exceeded the limits recommended by the International Committee for Non-Ionising Radiation.

But he added that because the radiation can build up, levels can be high in carriages with fewer passengers.

“It’s possible even if the train is not crowded,” he told New Scientist magazine.

Mr Hondou said the findings, originally published in the Journal of the Physical Society of Japan, were worrying in light of the growth in the number of people with WAP phones and other wireless electronic devices.

He suggested train operators should consider introducing rules on the use of mobile phones in carriages. But he added that the effects seen in train carriages may also apply to buses and elevators.

“At the moment we have no regulation on the use of mobile phones in areas where many people are together.”

Prof Les Barclay, who is a member of the Department of Heatlth mobile phone research committee, suggested that the health risks were minimal. “Signals from the antenna and mobile phone decrease very rapidly as you move away from the phone,” he said. “By the time a signal has been reflected by a distant wall it will be at a very low level.”

Prof Barclay said the committee was not planning to study the use of mobile phones on trains. He added: “It is something we could look into. It would be rather an easy job to do that kind of assessment.”

A spokeswoman for the Rail Passengers Council said it would be interested in finding out more about the issue. “In terms of the health impact of using mobile phones on trains, this is not something we have researched in the past. But it is certainly something we would be interested in. While we probably wouldn’t carry out such a study ourselves we would be interested in any findings.”