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UMTS technology promises Golden Age at a price

"Your bill, Mr Fischer: Thank you for using our service."

(Keystone)

Last week, Switzerland auctioned off its third generation mobile phone licences, amid much hype about how the technology is going to revolutionise people's lives. Swissinfo offers a glimpse into the future.

"Hello, Mr Fischer. It's the 25th February 2003 and the time is 7am. The weather is cloudy but it's expected to brighten up this afternoon. The temperature is eight degrees Celsius. Your first appointment is at 9am with Mr Aroyo."

Those words are not spoken by a hyper-efficient butler, but by a mobile phone lying on the table beside Jean Fischer's bed.

After giving him a moment to wake up, the colour screen displays the latest news from swissinfo.

The top business story reports on a sudden rise on the Zurich stock market index. "I think I'll sell some shares," says Fischer, before punching the keyboard on his mobile to send instructions to his bank."

Then, because his wife fancies an evening out, he scans the entertainment guide on the Internet and reserves two places at the theatre.

The tickets will be automatically debited to his next telephone bill like all the other purchases made using his mobile. At the end of the month, the bill will be rather steep because all the services carry a surcharge.

But Jean Fischer is blissfully unaware of the impending damage to his bank balance. For now, he's happy to have acquired a third generation mobile phone.

Thanks to UMTS technology, he can surf the Internet at high speed, hear the latest chart topper and watch videos. His new machine combines the function of telephone, computer, television, diary and even does credit card transactions.

The man who sold him the phone explained that its speed of transmission is 200 times faster than the clunky network, which was operating back in the year 2000. Fischer is one of the 450 million people who now access the Internet via a mobile phone.

On his way to work, Fischer gets caught in a traffic jam, and kills time by playing a game of battleships with the driver of the car in front. With a smile on his face, he sinks his opponent's aircraft carrier on the screen of his mobile.

On the motorway, Fischer's telephone displays a route map, showing both the position of his car and the traffic jam he has just cleared.

He steps on the accelerator. But Jean Fischer has forgotten that government software will register that his cell phone was moving at 153 kilometres an hour between Lausanne and Bern. On Monday, the speeding fine will be in the post.

swissinfo

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