Mobile Videophone

Paris, August 2002: France Telecom researchers have developed an unprecedented software application that transforms PDAs equipped with a miniature camera into full-fledged mobile videophone devices. This means users will soon be able to set up a wireless video contact between two Pocket PCs.

This makes it possible for the first time to easily establish direct connections between two people at remote locations without any wiring. Sound is now enhanced with video: the speaker is displayed on the screen and converses with the same audio quality as a conventional phone call. The call can be preceded by transmission of personal information, such as a business card, multimedia animation, logo, etc. This data is displayed on a Web page to identify the caller before the called party answers. Users can also show callers where they are by pointing the PDA camera around them.

This breakthrough makes costly add-on equipment unnecessary. The new France Telecom application, known as "eConf", gives PDAs the processing power needed for this type of functionality despite the limited resources inherent to these handheld devices. "eConf" is compatible with all communications standards. The application currently runs with the WiFi (802.11b) wireless networking specification. It enables transparent service continuity with wireless networking standards.

The software opens up a host of promising consumer applications, such as videophone contacts with family and friends (grandparents will love getting videophone calls from their grandchildren!). Most importantly, the new technology harbors major potential for use in business environments, enhancing the content that can be exchanged on wireless corporate LANs, for example. Video-enhanced on-the-move communications will save time and heighten efficiency thanks to an extremely user-friendly, practical interface.

Among the almost infinite list of examples of possible applications are:

  • Doctors guiding emergency rescue personnel providing first aid at the scene of an accident
  • Real estate agents can instantly show the new listing to colleagues via their PC or a videoconference room.
  • A repair technician can ask for advice if a difficult problem is encountered on the road.
  • Or journalists sending live images of events as they unfold, right from the palms of their hand!

"Thanks to this handheld operating system we're already moving towards the inevitable merging of today's wireless handsets and PDAs," says Patrick Boissonade, project manager at France Telecom R&D. "The 100-percent software functioning of new-generation mobile devices marks a considerable advance towards offering multimedia services at low costs via an efficient and ubiquitous interface. This opens up tremendous opportunities for the future."

Trials will begin in October at several France Telecom research facilities. Full-scale tests under real conditions will be carried out in 2003 (pending requisite regulatory approvals) in order to identify new types of mobile videophone services.

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