Phone Becomes Wireless Net Receiver

May 28, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Wall Street Journal ran a recent headline to the effect that e-commerce isn't dead, it's just changing. The same thing seems to apply to the telecommunications industry.

A great die-off has occurred among industry businesses, but things seem to be changing, too. One of the changes has been the arrival of Java technology in a new Nextel phone, the i85.

As befits a highly partisan corporate marketing executive, Scott Fehsenfeld speaks of the device as the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread, superior to all other products, even though something even newer — the i150 — also is making a debut.

But either way, Fehsenfeld said the addition of Java gives the new telephone a running start on wireless Internet capability.

"I don't mean that you get Web site graphics," Fehsenfeld said. "The screen doesn't have that capability, but you can get the text. So if you need to do some quick research, or get other information from Internet sources and you're away from your PC, it's right at hand."

Currently, he explained, the phone is pre-loaded with several Java applications, including programs that enable it to function as an expense pad and as a specialized business calculator.

And as the firm develops more applications, owners will be able to download them from the firm's Web site.

And he said the Internet feature is the fourth broad function now available through cell technology.

"What this means," Fehsenfeld said, "is we are taking a cell phone, a two-way radio, a pager — both numeric and text — and then we're taking the Internet platform, which we call Data, and rolling all that into one handset as opposed to having four pieces of hardware attached to you."

He said the most distinctive element of the package is the two-way radio that allows instant contact — instant press-to-talk voice communication from one end of the Lower Peninsula to the other (or as far as northern Ohio, for that matter) — either between family members, or between a manager and her traveling sales force, or a construction contractor and as many workers or subcontractors as he chooses.

"We can pretty much set it up to do whatever you need," he said.

The phones normally cost $300, but he said the firm is introducing them at just under $200.

He said the two-way feature in older Nextel phones has been extremely popular with construction firms as well as manufacturing managers needing to be in ready touch with key people in widely scattered locations either in sprawling plants or firms with several plants in a region.

"And it's showing itself to be useful in just about any kind of industry," he added.

And while two-way wireless communication is available with older Nextel equipment, Fehsenfeld stressed that there's nothing you can hook on your belt that has all four functions.

"People can talk with each other literally at the touch of a button. We're not dealing with voice mail, or with cellular calls, or dialing a number, or auto dialing, but speaking at the touch of a button to exactly the person or a group of people you want to talk with and nobody else.

"And only you and the other person or persons you specify are speaking with each other," he said.

He explained that when a firm wants Nextel two-way radio, the management establishes what Nextel calls a "fleet" or network of listeners and then, within those phone-equipped employees, any number of talk groups. He said the U.S. Postal Service uses the devices so supervisors can contract people by shifts, or by work groups or supervisor groups within shifts, or transportation types, and so forth.

"And then what you can do when you need to talk is to select one person, or one group, and that's how my phone knows who to connect me with.

"And the thing is that I can direct connect them. I'm not paying for cell time. I have unlimited two-way radio time, so from a cost standpoint there can be some real savings with this phone."

Fehsenfeld said that owners of the i85 no longer will have to fuss with a mode button.

Instead, one selects functions from a computer-style screen menu.

The phone also is voice-activated and can store up to 20 numbers to be dialed automatically by voice prompt. "I can say my wife's name, and it will automatically dial her."

He also says the phone stores an added 250 phone book entries, with up to seven numbers available for a single name.

The Datebook feature allows one to input appointments that generate automatic alert reminders when meetings are about to begin.

Fehsenfeld also said the phone's memory automatically silences the ringer and sends calls to voice mail when the owner is in a scheduled meeting.

The model has another new feature called Voice Notes.

"Let's say I'm driving down the road and an idea hits me — I've got to buy flowers for my wife or talk to so-and-so and it's not safe to start writing down messages as I'm in traffic — so I can record a message to myself up to three minutes in length.

"Or let's say you and I are talking and I'm coming to see you but I don't know your exact location.

"So I ask you directions and as you give them to me, I can record your remarks on the i85 and then, after we've hung up, I can play the directions back to find my way to your office."

Finally, for people in the airport and who have their laptop along, Fehsenfeld said the i85 will function as a wireless modem enabling a person to download e-mail to the laptop.

Nextel currently is available in 97 of the top 100 national markets.

"Eventually, we'll be nationwide, but I can't say when. Right now we're not in some rural and lesser-traveled areas.

"Because we're 100 percent digital, we don't have the reach yet that some of the other services do. They can bump from digital to their older analog signals in more remote areas."

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