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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 January, 2004, 04:16 GMT
Magnetism powers mobile headset

By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor in Las Vegas

Aura magnetic headset, Aura Communications
The Aura headset relies on magnetic induction
A mobile phone headset based on magnetic technology has been developed by a US company.

Aura Communications says its wireless headset is cheaper and lasts longer than ones based on radio frequency technology such as Bluetooth.

The device uses a form of magnetic induction to transmit the signal from the mobile to the earpiece.

"The magnetic field creates this bubble that is uniquely associated with the user and the bubble moves around you," said Vince Palermo, Aura's Chief Technology Officer.

"You can never have someone else's call. The unit jumps to a different frequency if someone next to you has a similar headset," he told BBC News Online.

Alternative choice

Phone headsets are growing in popularity, partly fuelled by legislation banning the use of handheld mobiles in cars.

Aura, set up by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is looking to capitalise on this trend by offering a low-cost alternative to Bluetooth headsets.

The first device based on the technology is Fonegear's Cord Free headset, which received its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The gadget does not use radio frequency but instead relies on magnetic induction technology.

This works by changing a faint magnetic field from one unit to another.

The weak signal means the device has a limited range of just over a metre, unlike Bluetooth which can work up to distances of 10 metres.

"It is not meant to be something you put on your desk and walk away from," said Mr Palermo.

Wider uses

The kit comes with a headset and a base which is plugged into a mobile using a standard 2.5mm headphone plug.

Aura says the device is compatible with 90% of mobiles and adapters are available for the others.

The kit uses a single AA alkaline battery in the base to charge up the headset, providing up to 25 hours of use and three months of standby power.

The headset is on sale on the Fonegear website for $75 and is expected to be in the shops in the US within three months.

Aura said it aims to sell half a million units worldwide by the end of the year.

The company is also looking at other uses for its wireless magnetic communication technology.

"We see that in a couple of years you could build this technology into mobiles, or have it embedded in music players," said Mr Palermo.

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