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LET YOUR IMAGINATION RUN WILD, NEW CELLULAR INNOVATIONS ARRIVE

Cellular technology, which made its shining debut as the working world’s tool for efficiency and productivity, now penetrates our culture in ways well beyond its initial purpose-some necessary or practical, others bordering on whimsical.

Most applications offer convenience, but a few have revolutionized the way people work and live. This article presents a sample of recent cellular applications and illustrates the versatility of cellular service.

Wireless watering

No doubt mobility is the catalyst for cellular services. For some users, however, cellular decreases mobility, and that result also can be positive.

Colorado farmer Doug Rogers used to drive 50 miles round trip each day to check on the irrigation system for his corn and alfalfa crops. Now with a cellular phone and antenna attached to his irrigation controls, Rogers monitors and controls factors of the irrigation system from his home miles away. The equipment and technology is from CommNet Cellular Inc. of Englewood, Colo.

Kansas Cellular and Teeter Irrigation Inc., of Kansas and eastern Colorado, provide farmers with wireless irrigation capabilities as well. Users can call while vacationing, explains Kenneth Teeter, vice president of Teeter Irrigation, and actually talk to their sprinklers. “Voice synthesizers can convert electronic signals to easily understood voice messages.”

Though the technology is pricy, many farmers say the investment is recovered through increased efficiency and irrigating accuracy that translates into better crop yield. Rogers, who farms about 2,000 acres, uses a center-pivot irrigation system by Lindsay Manufacturing Co., priced between $30,000 to $90,000, depending on acreage. Wireless technology accounted for only about $2,300 of Roger’s cost, he said.

CommNet charges between $17 and $25 per month during the six-month growing season for a set number of calls. The remaining portion of the year it charges only $5 per month. The company provides similar cellular remote monitoring for oil and gas companies.

Coleslaw or potatoes

Cellular customers of Comcast Metrophone, a division of Comcast Cellular Communications Inc., can quickly order a hot dinner from Boston Chicken-the popular nationwide franchise-and receive operator service as genuine as the food itself.

Dialing 411, Comcast Connect, the company’s mobile customers in parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware are greeted not by an automated answering system but a live operator who is trained and ready to talk rotisserie. Equipped with menus, the operators help customers plan a dinner and place the order, saving them time from waiting in long lines. When call-in customers arrive at Boston Chicken, their meals are ready in a designated area.

Comcast Connect features other services including Typist-1, a round-the-clock full-service secretarial firm that will take dictation, write a memo or send a fax for cellular customers on the go, said Dava Guerin, a Comcast spokeswoman.

Callers also can access information including weather reports or the location of the nearest florist, added Comcast.

“They’re really nice people,” commented Guerin of the operators. The *411 service is available 24 hours a day. Operators answer questions or direct callers to another source.

Comcast Connect was launched last year based on the premise customers-particularly mobile working people-prefer talking with operators rather than an automated system. Service with Boston Chicken began in May through Mid-Atlantic Restaurant Systems L.P., an area Boston Chicken franchise, and has drawn great response from customers, Guerin said.

Merchants mobilized

Electronic credit-card verification is nothing new and most retailers will pay a little extra for the efficiency and security lacking in manual transactions. But for high-volume sales merchants, those desiring added security or doing business in remote locations-such as a mall kiosk or trade show floor-where accessing electrical outlets and phone lines is often difficult, wireless verification is an indispensable tool.

Firstnet Corp. of Dallas last month introduced its AireTrans Transaction Air Connect System. Together with Bell Atlantic Mobile’s AirBridge packet service, FirstNet commenced a large-scale deployment of the wireless credit-card verification system based on Cellular Digital Packet Data technology. CDPD sends data through unused portions of existing cellular channels.

AirBridge service transmits information about credit limits or approvals in less than six seconds, say the companies, and the signals are encrypted for data security.

U.S. Wireless Data introduced POS-50, another portable automatic credit card verification device. CommNet Cellular offers the service in some of its markets.

Hello, New York? Sell!

What is likely the most fast-paced of businesses just got a little faster. Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile and the New York Stock Exchange installed for traders on the Exchange floor what the recent venture-comprising the mobile interests of Bell Atlantic Mobile and Nynex Mobile Communications Co.-proclaims is the largest-ever in-building microcellular system.

NYSE member specialists and brokers can save time by avoiding running between the trading floor and phone banks lining the Exchange’s perimeter.

The digital microcell network is part of NYSE’s two-year, $125 million integrated technology program, which is intended to increase the efficiency and productivity of stock traders. NYSE plans to complete the program next year.

Breaking news

FoNet Inc. is gaining headway in the market with FirstLook Video, a portable system that transmits full-color, full-motion video and audio data over both cellular and landline networks. The technology makes it possible for television news stations to transfer video from a news scene to the station and broadcast in a matter of minutes, according to the Tulsa, Okla.-based company.

Here’s how it works. A remote unit located in a news vehicle accepts all video signals, including VHS, Beta and 8mm tape, through an adapter. The video segment is converted in real time to a compressed video data computer file, explained FoNet’s spokesman Randy Jeffers. At the scene, news teams can perform some editing, such as frames-per-second and video length, using a graphic menu-driven interface. Then, using FoNet’s “macroplexing” technology, the video files are split into smaller pieces. Push one button. Presto! The video is sent to the host/player unit at the station with all cellular modem and telephone dialing connections completed automatically.

For wireless transmission, files are sent over multiple cellular channels simultaneously. This is the magic of FirstLook, according to Jeffers.

Once video files are reassembled, the footage can be further edited by station engineers and either archived, transferred to tape or sent directly to master control for broadcast.

The host unit is capable of receiving video files 24 hours a day, even while its player component is running footage for broadcast.

FirstLook is used by news stations in more than 30 markets within the continental United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Hawaii, noted Jeffers. Often cellular carriers purchase FirstLook Video, he explained, and offer it exclusively to one news station in a market. In exchange, the carrier receives advertising and promotional benefits, such as a joint logo or mention of sponsorship.

In addition to advertising exposure, “We were looking for a dramatic way we could show the public different uses of cellular,” said Dan Kelsey, general manager of Contel Cellular in Bakersfield, Calif. “We want to get people thinking about how they can use it in their own lives,” he added. The company is currently seeking other channels, including business users, to market FirstLook.

Contel is owned in majority by GTE Corp.’s GTE Mobilnet division and awaits approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to completely merge the two co
mpanies, noted Kelsey. Contel and GTE have introduced FirstVideo in a number of U.S. markets.

FoNet also is developing ResQ Cam, a camera and video transmission unit nested in an untethered backpack that transmits live images, one frame every three to five seconds, from an accident scene straight to the hospital. Doctors have expressed the benefits of seeing a patient’s accident environment to better determine factors, including the cause of injury and appropriate treatment, said Jeffers, which can be subjective through verbal communications.

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