Wireless Radio Modems, Cellular Phones and stuff

Wireless PDA phones as the way of the future?

First Mobile Phones in Australia

I'm not sure it is realistic to predict anything in this area. The first Public Automatic Mobile Telephone System (PAMTS) in Australia, around August 1981, were 7 kg monsters designed to install in cars. There was a box in the car boot, about the size of two shoe boxes, plus another box inside the car. They cost more than $5,000, with an annual access fee of $800. You really had to need to use them.

AMPS (analog cellular) phones appeared in Australia in 1987, and 100,000 had been connected by June 1989. At the end of 1992, the 500,000 had been connected. One million by March 1994, two million by July 1995. AMPS peaked at 2.6 million in 1996, and was closed in city areas at the end of 1999, and in country areas in September 2000. It was replaced by CDMA. GSM launched in 1993. By February 2001 cellular phones outnumber fixed lines, and by April 2002 there are 12 million connected.

GSM Phones

GSM phone data works well for Australian users, albeit only at 9600 baud. Telstra at least don't even ask if you need data or fax; it just works first time. In Europe and most other countries GSM is the cellular standard, and roaming can be arranged.

However in the USA, I can't roam. GSM isn't the standard. There are however a few US cellular companies that have GSM. It is at 1900 MHz, not the standard 900 or 1800 MHz, so you need a special dual band or triband phone, like an Ericsson i888.

A list of USA GSM phone areas appears at www.gsmworld.com/gsminfo/cou_us.htm

Cellular phones have been attacked as a possible cause of cancers. Some defences by the cell phone makers were once available at www.amta.org.au/issues/faq.htm and at www.amta.org.au/issues/animals.htm To my mind the cell phone makers are at the same stage of denial that the tobacco industry was a decade ago. They even employ many of the same scientists to make their case. Check it out yourself.

Satellite Phones

Most also have a GSM or other cellular component for cheaper calls when in range. However, it appears there is no business case to be made for sat phones. Cellular phones took most of their business, and the remote areas that could most benefit can't afford the service.


Available in Australia mid 2000 via Vodaphone. 9.6 kbps data speed. About $2000-$3000 for the phone, high per minutes charges. Funds available to Globalstar reported to be about US$250M mid 2000, burn rate over US$100M per quarter. Globalstar filed for Chapter 11 protection in February 2002, as the cost of servicing their debt exceeded income. They had US$3.4 billion in debt, and cash of US$46 million. Started advertising again in late 2003.

ICO Global

Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular Communications, now ATandT Wireless) owns 60%. See also Teledesic. Original plans were for 840 satellites for mobile phones. Cut to 299 satellites costing US$9 billion. Cut to 30 satellites at higher altitude at a cost of US#1 billion. Chapter 11 in 2000, 9.6 kbps data rate. Expected around end of 2000, if it survives. I haven't heard anything further of them, and believed they have folded or changed to Teledesic.


Low earth orbit satellite phone, voice only, no data. Total investment US$5.5 billion. Chapter 11 reported in 2000, and I'm not really expecting it to survive. Reported sold for a song (US$25 million) in December 2000. Survives on its new low cost base as a remote area and military supplier, with 2400 bps data rate data also.


Satellite phone only. Inmarsat I-3. About A$7000 for the fairly large phone, but 64 kbps data capability. Mid level orbit satellites, I believe. Immarsat I-4 details due for mid 2000 release, with three new satellites, x10 capacity, 432kbps. High price option, but it has survived the longest.


Craig McCaw, and a substantial backing by Bill Gates also. Planned a 3 satellite constellation to provide low cost broadband communication. Boeing was satellite contractor in 1997, replaced by Motorola in 1998 (launch date changed from 2001 to 2003), then Alenia Spazio SpA from Italy. Teledesic had 115 staff in 1999, 75 in 2001, 50 in 202, and was down to 10 in October 2002. Suspended construction of first two satellites in October 2002.

Metricom Ricochet wireless modem

So far you get to use this gadget only in certain areas of the US west coast. San Francisco, Seattle, Corvallis and Eugene, plus some universities. They went bankrupt in August 2001, and I gather are no longer available. Pity, as it was a nice idea.

The Ricochet package includes the 13 ounce wireless modem, serial cable, AC adaptor, two antennas, spare disks, service phone numbers, velcro to attach the modem to a computer, manuals and application notes. Sounds pretty extensive. The Ricochet is 260 grams, 62mm x 197mm x 22mm. To my considerable disgust, it uses a custom battery. It is however Hayes AT modem command compatible, with wireless extensions.

The normal package includes Metricom's PPP internet service, however you can order it with dial out access to all area codes within the Metricom cover area, so you can connect using a terminal emulator. Raw "radio" speed is about 100kbps, so you typically get between 14.4 and 28.8 kbps user data speeds.

You can buy two modems at $600 each and set up your own connections. You can sign a 12 month service agreement and get the modem for $299. (Prices change all the time - check the Metricom site below).

RCA WM3900

RCA offer a 900 MHz spread spectrum 56.6 Kbps v.90 wireless modem. Plug one into the phone line, one into the PC. 200 foot range, US$249. home.rca.com

Palm and Wireless

Lots of information at users.zipworld.com.au/~rmills/palm.htm

Other Wireless Pages

I've written briefly on Bluetooth and on WiFi.

I hope you have enjoyed www.ericlindsay.com.