UPDATE: Orange to offer videophone in UK

UK mobile phone company Orange will release its "videophone" to customers in the second quarter of next year, and it will be mainly built with technology from home grown companies, Orange has announced.

The videophone, a palm-held device that will run on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, is designed to provide full video and audio communication capabilities, as well as complete PDA (personal digital assistant) capabilities, including e-mail, Web browsing, Microsoft's Pocket Office applications and handwriting recognition, the company said.

The phone will be targeted toward business users at the time of launch, said Adrian Turner, media product manager for Orange. "Our target price is going to be 500 pounds ($A1280), which will mean that our initial audience will be in that (business) sector," he added, giving real estate agents and surveyors as examples.

"We do think there will be a consumer market once we get video and graphics-based services under way," he said.

The commercial name for the product will be announced at the time of launch.

The videophone will have a touch-sensitive screen. Users will be able to initiate and receive video and standard audio calls via the phone, which will also provide voice recordings, voice mail, and voice recognition.

"It's not just a matter of videophone technology," Turner said. "For example, if you called the cinema to see what times the movie is playing, you'd also get to see the trailers for the movie," he added.

It will still be another 10 to 15 years before videophones are as widespread as regular mobile phones, but probably only three to four years before people get used to using them, Turner said.

The phone will be dual band, with the capability of switching between GSM1800 (global system for mobile communication 1800) and GSM900. It will have data transfer speeds of between 28.8K bits per second (bps) and 64Kbps, according to Orange.

The service will use HSCSD (high-speed circuit switched data) format to reach the higher speeds. HSCSD is the step between second generation GSM (global system for mobile communications) and GPRS (general packet radio system), which will be packet-switched.

Cambridge Consultants will be leading the design team, Celestica will manufacture the physical handset, Motion Media Technology will develop the video application software and implementation, and NMI Electronics will integrate Windows CE with the applications and services, Orange said.

Orange had approached other companies to do the physical manufacturing of the handset, Turner said. "Nobody was using the same kind of time scales as we were, nobody was really interested in coming up with a handset on our time scale," he said.

The University of Strathclyde, in Scotland, will provide the video compression software which will allow the images to be transmitted at 12 frames per second.

Although 12 frames per second is a little less frequent than people are used to, Turner feels it is enough to get the technology off the ground. "There is a videophone currently available in Japan right now, which is two frames per second. That's basically still pictures," he said.

"We think that 12 (frames per second) is credible, it is sufficient enough to do this technology," he added. "Many people still feel that the clarity of the image is more important than the frame rate."

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