At your fingertips

Less than thrilled about the prospect of boarding a plane to make that next business trip?

Thanks to technology, you may be able to see that customer by simply picking up the telephone.

According to Susan Kristof, public relations manager for Sprint PCS, the telecommunications provider will launch a nationwide system in June or July that will provide transmission speeds up to approximately 144k — up to 10 times faster than the system currently in place. The high-speed transmission system should support the use of videophones like the ones television network correspondents employed to broadcast reports from the front lines of Afghanistan.

“It’s kind of like a computer,” she says. “If you have a real slow computer, and you try to put a movie on it, it looks really bad. Phones are the same way. You need to have a good transmission speed in order to be able to have a good picture on your phone.”

A representative of electronics producer Sanyo’s North American marketing and distribution operation describes videophones the size of a regular cell phone with liquid crystal display screens that provide a “pretty good” picture, although there is a slight drag in movement. A tiny camera mounted above the screen relays images of the caller when held 18 to 20 inches from the face.

A combination earpiece/microphone allows users to watch and talk at the same time. Some open like a checkbook, with an LCD screen and keypad on each side — one for downloading data, the other for viewing images.

Kristof says the high-speed transmission system provides access to advances in wireless technology other than the videophone. In addition to streaming video, the system will provide streaming audio, which means the phone can function as a radio.

“You’re going to see your phone become a lot more like a computer,” Kristof says. “It will be more of a mobile companion. It will be a really useful item for anyone who’s on the road.”

Users will be able to take pictures with a phone equipped with a digital camera and e-mail them from the phone. And because more customers can use a high-speed telecommunications network without the addition of transmission towers, the system is good for the environment.

“That will make a lot of people happy,” she says.

She admits, however, that getting on the Internet won’t be that much different than it is today using an Internet-capable phone and service — just faster.

Prices for the videophones and access to Sprint’s high-speed network were not available at press time, but the Sanyo rep points out that technological gadgetry is seldom cheap when it first arrives in stores. The manufacturer’s cell phones currently retail for as much as $499.

A clerk at Radio Shack’s West Market Street location in Fairlawn says high volume stores, such as the Radio Shack in New Philadelphia, could have videophones in stock sometime in 2002.

As for high-speed network access, Kristof says it will probably be priced differently from access to Sprint’s current counterpart.