Mitsubishi Electric Corp. has taken the wraps off a prototype mobile telephone that is able to place calls via wireless LAN networks in addition to conventional mobile telephone networks. The company unveiled the device at the Ceatec 2002 exhibition, which opened Tuesday just outside of Tokyo.
The handset looks like a regular cellular telephone however has a Compact Flash card slot on the rear into which the user can plug a networking card.
"This is the first in a new style of mobile telephone," said developer Kazuyoshi Kojima of Mitsubishi's silicon devices technology department. "If you want to change the network, you just pull out one card and plug in another," he said while demonstrating the handset at Ceatec with wireless LAN and PHS (Personal Handyphone System) Compact Flash cards.
Such a design has some advantages for mobile telephone makers. Because the radio portion of the telephone is in a plug-in card and not part of the handset, manufacturers will be able to easily put the handsets on sale in almost any country and avoid the often time-consuming and expensive radio frequency testing that is required by regulatory authorities in most countries. The cards will still need to be approved, but many are already available.
For users it also becomes possible to swap cards to match whatever wireless network is available or, as Kojima suggested, to match your mood by switching between work and play-orientated handsets. Coupled with an IP telephony service provider, the telephone can also in theory be used anywhere in the world in which a wireless LAN connection to the Internet is available, said Kojima.
"We won't be able to launch it this fiscal year," he said, referring to the Japanese fiscal year that ends on March 31, 2003. "But in the next fiscal year, we want to launch this as soon as possible."
The company already has a potential customer, according to Kojima. Yozan Inc., which is building up a wireless LAN network in Tokyo alongside a PHS network it purchased earlier this year from Tokyo Telecommunications Network Co. Inc., is interested in buying the handsets and issuing them to its subscribers.