Talking could be passe on cellphones but network bandwidth to feel strain

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MONTREAL - As cellphones become more like mobile computers, calling to just say "hello" could become a bit of an old-fashioned greeting.
Cellphone users aged 25 and under are already using more data and as they get older it doesn't look like they will prefer talking over other forms of communication, says PC Magazine analyst Sascha Segan.
"There will be more texting, more apps, more video, more Facebook, more social networking, more everything - everything other than dialling someone's phone to talk to them," Segan says.
Smartphones are changing the way consumers use their phones.
Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone closed the decade as dominant smartphone brands among business users and consumers, but coming years could tell a different story.
"Don't count on them being on top in 10 years," Segan said, noting the technology landscape is always shifting.
While the BlackBerry and other smartphones could use applications developed by third-party software developers that didn't come already installed on the devices, it was the iPhone that has popularized "apps" for smartphones.
"Apps" can do things like find restaurants, deliver airline boarding information, allow stock trading and gaming playing, and translate languages.
"The iPhone was a pretty tectonic shift in terms of what people expect from their devices," said Segan, managing editor of mobile at PCMag Digital Network in New York.
Over the next decade, the use of apps will continue to grow.
U.S.-based ABI Research is predicting that apps downloaded for mobile phones will hit five billion by 2014, up from about 2.3 billion downloaded in 2009.
Smartphones and digital applications stores where apps are purchased will be the major drivers of this surge, says ABI, a global firm that forecasts tech trends.
But technology analyst Duncan Stewart said the challenge this decade will be for network bandwidth to keep up with the new ways mobile phones are being used.
Capacity is the issue and consumers who use a lot of bandwidth for things like streaming video will pay more on their monthly plans, he said.
"Price will be used to control demand," said Stewart, director of research and analysis at DSAM Consulting in Toronto.
There's only so much spectrum, radio waves over which cellphone networks operate, he said.
"The bandwidth demand is growing many times faster than technology's ability to provide bandwidth."
Even faster, more advanced wireless networks won't get rid of the bandwidth capacity issue, he added.
But advanced networks will help change the role of the cellphone.
Advanced wireless networks, like Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMax, that will light up later in 2010 and beyond will result in more powerful mobile phones. These networks are expected to offer speeds similar or faster to a home PC experience for cellphone users.
The CEO of new Canadian cellphone company Public Mobile said there won't be a lot of mobile phones capable of running on LTE networks before 2012.
These phones will be the equivalent of what the iPhone did a few years ago in the cellphone industry, said Alek Krstajik, who heads up the Toronto-based company that will launch this year.
"You will be able to conference, you will be able to surf the Internet the way you can at probably, at that point, at a faster rate than you can today on a home computer," Krstajik said.
"I think the question is how central does that become to our lives? Does that become the one device that you just don't go anywhere without?"
Rhonda McEwen, a professor at the University of Toronto, says the mobile phone will continue to free up people from a fixed place.
As a result the Internet becomes portable, too, she said.
"I think the future is going to see mobility taking over a lot of what we do sitting at our desktops," says McEwen, who teaches in the Faculty of Information Studies and specializes in new media and the information practices of young people.
Back at the beginning of the decade, mobile phones were primarily for talking.
PC Magazine's Segan said the first MP3 music phone came out in 2001 in North America and camera phones were out in 2002, which made the devices for more than for just conversation.
Stewart, however, doesn't see a lot of dramatic change in the way cellphones will be used.
He said a lot of the multimedia functions like taking pictures, watching video and reading newspapers that were predicted for cellphones in 1999-2000 didn't become popular until later in 2006 and in '07.
"I would guess that by 2019 we will be doing stuff with cellphones that isn't terribly different than what the more aggressive of us are doing today."
He also isn't so hot on using cellphones as personal navigation devices to be shown live pictures, for example, a nearby pizza place.
"I see a whole lot of people being crushed by buses as they do this," Stewart said.
And the cellphone as a digital wallet to pay for purchases?
What if the cellphone's battery dies, he asked, noting that most people would carry a wallet anyway.
"A phone is still a phone."

Organizations: PC Magazine, Research In Motion, Apple PCMag Digital Network ABI Research DSAM Consulting University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies

Geographic location: MONTREAL, New York, Toronto North America

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