Personal Magnetism

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The wireless headset is getting a makeover. Current models use radio frequency technology to link headsets to mobile devices, but a new headset is turning to magnetic fields.

Aura Communications and foneGEAR debuted their universal wireless headset based on magnetic communications technology at DEMOmobile 2003. Incorporating Aura Communications' LibertyLink technology, foneGEAR's Cord Free headset uses an enhanced form of near-field magnetic communication and is compatible with existing mobile and cordless phones, and PCs.

"The magnetic induction technology is among the most significant new innovations we've seen in this area," said Chris Shipley, executive producer of the DEMOmobile event. "The huge savings in power and cost, as well as the inherent privacy of the technology, should prove very attractive to consumers."

Although the concepts behind magnetic induction communication have been around for decades, the companies say this is the first practical development of the technology.

Radio frequency (RF) wireless communication systems may be optimal for communicating over long distances, but their very nature creates security issues because of widespread broadcasting of information in a particular frequency band, which often results in interference and crowding among devices as well.

One example of this is the 2.4 GHz frequency band, the companies said, where simultaneous operation of a portable phone using a Wi-Fi network and a Bluetooth headset is frequently impossible without severe degradation of quality of service.

In contrast, magnetic communications operate in the low-frequency industrial, scientific and medical band at 13.5 MHz, and create a three-dimensional "bubble" around each user. Even better, magnetic communications -- by the laws of physics -- are inherently private and secure.

The magnetic communications headset uses a single AA alkaline battery to achieve up to 25 hours of talk time and three months of standby power. The headset doesn't even have a standby or "on-off" button, so worrying about remembering to turn it off is a thing of the past.

The headset is docked in a base that attaches to your phone through a universal 2.5 mm headset jack. The companies said they expect the headsets to hit the shelves of major nationwide electronics chains by the fourth quarter of this year, and will be available for less than $80. -- Aura Communications

Broadband Subscribers Grow in 2002

GENEVA -- The number of worldwide broadband subscribers grew 72 percent in 2002 to approximately 63 million, according to a report issued in mid-September by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

South Korea leads the way in broadband penetration, with approximately 21 broadband subscribers for every 100 inhabitants. Hong Kong ranks second with nearly 15 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants, and Canada ranks third with just over 11 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Home users drive the vast majority of broadband demand in all markets.

"Broadband is arriving at a time when the revolutionary potential of the Internet has still to be fully tapped," said Dr. Tim Kelly, head of the Strategy and Policy Unit at ITU. "However, while broadband is accelerating integration of the Internet into our daily lives, it is not a major industry driver in the same way that mobile cellular and the Internet were in the 1990s. It's an incremental improvement, offering Internet access that is faster, more convenient and cheaper than ever before."

Early evidence suggests broadband access fuels consumer spending, according to the report. Around the world, there is a positive relationship between broadband penetration and monthly spending on communications services. South Korea enjoys the second highest level of monthly telecommunications spending after Switzerland. Other economies with high rates of broadband penetration, such as Canada and Iceland, also have above average levels of consumer telecommunications spending.

For businesses, the new generation of broadband services competes effectively with leased lines, which traditionally have served the corporate sector. In some markets,

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor