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Thursday

16

September 2010

Removing phones from cell networks

by Colin Miller, on electronics, iPhone, iPod, Musings, Ramblings

A few weeks ago Apple announced a new iPod touch. In many ways it was quite similar to the old iPod touch. The form factor is similar and the basic features are nearly identical. What was really added were parts of the iPhone that were missing from the iPod touch: Facetime, cameras... etc. Pretty much everything but the phone portion. Knowing that you can make calls over facetime using an email address, it made me wonder if we really need phones at all any more.

At home, most people have some sort of internet connection. Many people use services like Vonage to use as a home phone that routes through the Internet. Going forward, you can use service like Google Voice and an android powered device (not even a phone) to make and receive phone and text messages. There are even rumors that Google Voice will be coming to the iOS platform to be usable on the iPhone and iPod touch.

[caption id="attachment_234" align="aligncenter" width="549" caption="A generic marketing image for the iPod touch, 4th generation. It features the A4 chip powering the iPhone 4 and iPad, along with a front and rear facing camera for Facetime."][/caption]

I find this interesting because it means that using a service like Google Voice, you can link a phone number to a non-phone device such as an iPod. This means that when you're at home or around some other area with wifi coverage, you have access to a phone where calls are basically free, and text messaging is included (also for free). That's pretty interesting, but most people would also want to use their phones on the go, like we do with our current cell phones.

You can buy a device from Sprint called the Sprint Overdrive for about $100. It gives you a 4G/3G data connection to up to 5 devices for $60 a month. I personally think that $60 is a bit expensive, but compared to some phone plans it's probably not all that bad. You could carry one of those around and use it to give your iPod (or other non-phone-yet-phone-like gadget) wifi anywhere there is a cell signal. Suddenly you have a cell phone that isn't a phone, using only the data portion of the cell network.

Carrying around an extra device just to give your iPod, and possibly other gadgets, cell coverage seems a bit annoying though. Your pockets would get very full and it wouldn't be very comfortable to carry around. Naturally this means that a cell radio should be just included into these devices instead.

"Haven't you just turned the iPod touch back into an iPhone?" you may ask. Yes and no. Building in data-only cell networks into non-phone devices is actually becoming more common. The Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook both already include cell radios in them to connect to their online stores and use as a web browser. The iPad has the option to have a data only connection via AT&T for $15-$30 a month. In fact if the iPad wasn't so huge, it would be the first contestant as a portable non-phone.

Using a data-only connection and performing all phone calls through the data line would make the iPod touch very similar to the iPhone, though with one tangible difference. If you're in an area with no cell coverage and yet you have a strong wifi single, you can still make and receive calls. Overall I would say that it's better than the iPhone because of that.

The cell carriers will be regulated to just a dumb data pipe. The exorbitant charges for text messages and 'minutes' will dissolve with free alternatives. Better ways to connect and manage our communication can arise when the carriers no longer have a strangle hold on what we can do with our voice lines. Doves will be released, babies will laugh, and Duke Nukem Forever will be released.

Hey, it could happen.

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