Expect to be put on hold for 4G mobiles

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:00am

Do you surf the net with your mobile much? Neither do I. It is not that I have turned into a technophobe, but I do resent paying about a dollar a second to see the Web squeezed into a screen that struggles even to display the time.

True, 3G constitutes a vital tool for cheating in pub quizzes - nobody should be expected to remember facts with a storage mechanism as primitive as the human brain any more. But 3G access hardly ranks as a necessity on a par with food, love and beer.

Its killer applications are reportedly the dissemination of pornography and video comedy tuition on how to break wind.

The technology, therefore, seems almost as banal as its predecessor, wireless access protocol (WAP), the original method of turning your phone into a multimedia wonderland powered by what marketers described as a 'screaming' data rate rarely spelt out in exact or credible figures.

In the end, the only thing screaming was the consumers unhappy with the lack of content and the cost, which provoked the invention of a new interpretation of the acronym: 'Wait And Pay'. WAP is now either said to be dead or merely puttering along, as a result of 'waplash', an aversion to the protocol and any others that presume to offer you the world in the palm of your hand.

Even if a firm realises that dream, do we really need the Web to be available all the time? It is tempting to say that, with its stress on fascias and ring tones, Nokia has got it right.

Perhaps we should view the mobile as a funky fashion accessory that just happens to have the ability to make phone calls and maybe take hazy photos. Nokia's 7280 'lipstick' camera phone appears the embodiment of the triumph of design over technology. The tubular high-gloss model seems to decry the idea of hi-tech toys being only for boys.

But the dream of a phone that amounts to more than a communication device may still have some mileage. The successor to the 3G standard is here. And those marketing gurus have come up with a brilliant name for it: 4G. Doubtless, sceptics are already preparing to attack.

Nonetheless, the spinners will be making pre-emptive strikes, spearheaded with sales blurbs that say '4G is generating a firestorm of interest among consumers looking to leverage maximum power from their cellphones'. Or '4G is the Holy Grail of telecommunications. It will productise innovative users and re-intermediate innovative experiences'.

As usual with futuristic technologies, facts are harder to come by than hype, which is the lingua franca of the new economy. The country expected to be the first to make 4G happen is one that does not know the meaning of the term 'upgrade fatigue': Japan, in the shape of its top mobile phone operator, DoCoMo.

The selling point DoCoMo and its rivals will stress is the primitive but irresistible quality of speed. Estimates about the data rate vary wildly. But 4G will definitely enable you to experience the magic of porn and flatulence tutorials more quickly and smoothly than you dreamt possible. Indeed, 4G could prove so potent it will link the whole globe and be operable from any location on - or above - the surface of the earth, according to cheerleaders.

The catch? It may prove as hard to develop as the cure for cancer or a silicone sense of humour implant. The reason: to fly, a profusion of technologies such as 802.11b (Wi-fi) and various methodologies must be united - no joke given that each is perplexing enough in its own right. So if you want to join the next generation, expect to be kept waiting on hold for rather longer than the average 'now economy' citizen can stomach.