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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 January 2007, 12:36 GMT
Predictions for the mobile future
The mobile has changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years but that is just the start of things to come in the next two decades, says mobile communications expert Dr William Webb.

Graphic of a mobile phone as a swiss army knife

It is 2025. Your mobile is now much more than just a communication device - more like a remote control on your life.

You still call it a "mobile" from habit but it is an organiser, entertainment device, payment device, security centre and so much more.

On a typical day it will start working even before you wake.

Because it knows your travel schedule it can check for problems on the roads or with the trains, and adjust the time it wakes you up accordingly, presenting you with the best route into work.

It can control your home, re-programming the central heating if you need to get up earlier and providing remote alerts if the home security system is triggered.

It is your payment system - just by placing the phone near a sensor on a barrier, like the Oyster readers in use today, you can automatically pay for tickets for journeys, or buy items in shops.

Digital toolset

It is also your entertainment centre when away from home.

As well as holding all your music files, as some phones today are becoming able to do, it will work with your home entertainment system while you sleep to find programming that will interest you and download it as a podcast so they you can watch it on the train or in other spare moments.

It will intelligently work out what to do with incoming phone calls and messages.

Leaving home without your mobile...will become rather like leaving home without a wallet, keys, music player and mobile all at once
William Webb

Because it knows your diary, it will know, for example, to direct voice calls to voicemail when you are in a meeting, perhaps providing a discrete text summary of the caller and the nature of their call.

With its understanding of almost all aspects of your life, many new services become possible.

For example, a "good food" meal planning service could send daily suggestions for your evening meal based on learned preferences, previous selections made and the likely contents of the refrigerator.

The latter might work by uploading the bill from the weekly grocery shop and then removing those items it deduces have been used for meals earlier in the week or which are out of date.

With an understanding of location, the mobile can provide directions, alert the user to friends in the vicinity or update the family "who's where" map (a little like the device the Weasley's have in Harry Potter books) so that members of the family know where each other is.

Leaving home without your mobile, bad enough already, will become rather like leaving home without a wallet, keys, music player and mobile all at once - quite unthinkable.

And in the nicest, most helpful and useful of ways, your mobile will guide you through life.

Travel planner

So what will this apparently massive change in our relationships with our mobiles require in the way of new technology or extra expenditure?

Girl holds up an advanced mobile phone
Every year mobile phones will become more and more advanced

Actually, surprisingly little.

Now that we have widespread cellular coverage, with high speed data networks in many homes, offices and "points of congregation" such as coffee shops, we have all we need to signal to the mobile.

What we do need is better mobiles and more intelligence.

Mobiles will continue to get steadily better, with higher resolution touch-screens, speech recognition that really works and much greater memory and storage capabilities.

Running on these mobiles, and also on home and wide-area networks will be increasingly intelligent software, able to learn behaviour, predict needs and integrate with a growing number of databases, such as transport updates from major providers.

So instead of the train company sending you a text to tell you of delays, it will send it to your mobile, which will analyse it in conjunction with your travel plans and modify those plans if needs be.

This evolution will be a slow but steady progress, as each few years mobiles get slightly better, intelligent software evolves and the various providers of all the necessary input data, such as transport organisations and shops, gradually make the data available in formats that become increasingly useful.

No more than 10 years ago the mobile was purely a device for making voice calls. Now it is a camera, music player, organiser and texting device in addition.

This is only the start of an evolution over the next 20 years that will turn it into our trusted and indispensable companion in life.


William Webb is head of Research and Development at the regulator Ofcom. His book Wireless Communications: The Future is published on 12 January



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