The future of travel

The future of travel

Our safari guide concluded his briefing by saying: “Once we leave the vehicle, the game sees us very differently. Our behaviour means that all the animals regard us as a super-predator. Everywhere we walk, we cause alarm.

“In order to minimise the disturbance we must move quietly. Take care over where you put your feet, and avoid unnatural sounds such as Velcro fastenings. And please switch your mobile phones off – they can provoke lion attacks.”

Experiences on our recent walking safari in Zimbabwe suggest that the final sentence of this briefing may not be entirely fanciful. Holiday as well as business travellers will increasingly expect their phones to work anywhere, and in this and my subsequent column, I will outline some of the advances in standards for the next generation of mobile services.

But first back to the remote bush camp in Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe where Gary, our guide, really did carry a mobile phone. Switched off, and for emergency purposes only, but carried on his belt along with a water bottle, knife and spare rounds for the rifle.

Indeed, at the end of that first walk we were briefly rushed by a lion at short range. When we stood our ground, the lion retreated as they invariably do. But suppose it had been his off day and the initial charge had been followed through? In devouring our guide, would the lion have cast the mobile aside for me to make a call for help?

Mobile phones, like the Internet, seem to have been with us forever. The number of subscribers to the Global System for Mobile Communications recently passed 100m, and it is predicted that by 2005 the figure will exceed 1bn phones.

In Finland, the number of mobile phones already exceeds the number of fixed phones, while in Stockholm it has been estimated that over 80% of the population has a mobile phone. Many believe that mobiles and their derivatives will become the primary communications device within the next 10 years.

But the future lies in a new generation of telephony standards (see Technical Background). The world is gearing up for just that, with the evolution of the Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard. UMTS is part of a global initiative know as the third generation of mobile services the first generation being analogue, and the second digital.

UMTS is the European vision for third generation mobile radio systems. Standards are also being developed in Japan and the US. All of these standards come under the umbrella of the International Telecommunications Union, which will decide on the family of standards that make up the next generation of mobile phones around the world, known at IMT-2000.

Whatever the outcome of these standards debates, users are already addicted to both mobile phones and the Internet. The market will respond to that with a much improved mobile communications infrastructure, and over time, lions will doubtless get used to the ring of tourist phones.


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