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A Concept Whose Time Has Come

Thu, 06/30/2005 - 8:36am
Ern Worthman,
Editorial Director

From time to time an idea comes along that is so phenomenal that it just sends goosebumps down my spine.


When I first read about disposable cell phones, I was so sure that it was a winner I plunked down what was left in my high-tech stock market account that I, and everybody else, shoulda sold in 2000 but didn't. Well, the phones are there but the market isn't and neither is my high-tech stock golden egg.


Now, being the type of individual who is blacklisted by the insurance companies when it comes to replacing my cell phones, this totally piqued my interest.


No more worries — yahoo! "Finally," I thought. "Now all I have to do is buy a cheap disposable cell phone for a few bucks and if I lose it, buy another one." Great concept, but not quite ready for prime-time, I'm afraid.


As I saw visions of styrofoam or some biodegradable and disposable typical footprint format cell phones dancing in front of my eyes, I had my rude awakening. As I was ready to rush down to the closest Worst Buy to pick up a dozen or more of these devices, I realized I had (like I occasionally do) left reality.


Well, disappointed to the max, I returned to reality and my crackberry.


There is some product available but it isn't how I invisioned it. For example if you go to the Internet and do a search for disposable cell phones, you'll find things like used phones for $29.95. I guess you can consider them "disposable."


Another solutions comes from Hop-On.com for around $40. Their model has no LCD screen and uses an audio feedback system to ensure proper dialing. There are others along those lines as well.


But what I think is the real deal is a concept I came across where the cell phone made from recycled paper products and is only the thickness of three credit cards. These disposable cell phones will come with one hour of talk time for about $20, including the phone. You will then be able to buy additional airtime or toss the phone, the choice is yours. But this is still on the drawing board.


But as for the kind you can get out of a vending machine (I'm told that is already in place in some European countries), that hasn't happened here.


What excites me is not the fact that this is tailor-made for me, but the technology used to implement this. The disposable phones have a couple of unique issues that have to be dealt with. First of all, to keep the price down, component count has to be kept to a minimum. And PC boards, LCDs and cases have to be earth-friendly and safely disposable or recyclable.


Second is the power source. There are currently a few ways of doing this. One potential player has decided that the intelligence will reside on the network — exactly the opposite of the current trend. The substrate will be a paper-based with components embedded directly into the paper. Metallic inks will be used as interconnects, instead of wires or circuit traces. Various other features, such as the keypad graphics and non-embeddable components will be on separate surfaces that will be connected with ribbon or other inexpensive interconnect cables and connectors. All layers will be sandwiched together in the proper order. The power source can be alkaline, Li-Ion, Ni-MH or other various battery technologies in a separate pack with quick connect/disconnect connections. The packs would be inexpensive, standard and easily replaceable if lost. If not, they can last as long as the user keeps the phone, or if the phone is lost, the pack is recycled and simply continues service on the next phone. It can also be assumed that progress will continue on power conservation. And, once voice recognition gets real, the need for a keypad and the associated circuitry disappears, lowering the cost even more. Also, the user will be able keep the earpiece/mic combination and just recycle it to each new phone.


This has some far-reaching implications. For example, it will pound another nail into the pay phone coffin (in reality it will likely kill pay phones altogether if they even survive that long). Cell phones have already been sealing it. With comfortably priced disposable cell phones, rather than feeding dollars into a pay phone, one could simply drop a $5 or $10 bill into a vending machine and get a disposable phone with an hour, or whatever, of talk time.


With a little more advancement in voice technology, stolen phones could be a thing of the past as well. It would be pretty cool to simply activate a cell phone with your voiceprint each time you want to use it. If you lose it, you wouldn't have to worry about unauthorized calls and wouldn't even have to notify the carrier of the loss. Simply go drop another one out of the vending machine. And, no more worries about credit checks, long-term contracts and the lost-phone police report.


One also wouldn't have to worry about phone configuration. With the intelligence is in the system, each phone would be a clone of your personal profile kept on the network. Well, a bit of philosophizing tells me that disposable cell phones are only the tip of the disposable society iceberg. Some may argue that such disposability isn't the ideal direction for society, but I think it has its merits. First of all, not everything will be headed for disposability. And some things should have been made disposable a long time ago (automobiles and computers).


There is also talk about disposable credit cards, for example. Once they expire, poof… they become useless. Also, if we can tie fingerprint ID to the cards, who cares if the are lost?


Personally, I think we need disposable eyeglasses, and if you ask me and Andrea you'll get a positive on disposable coats as well.


However, the technology still intrigues me.


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