From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When Your Phone Comes Too Close to Call

There is a scene in TV Africa’s running of the hit show Prison Break when the son of protagonist Lincoln Burrows (awaiting a death sentence within days) gets through to the secret-service-hunted-lawyers trying to stop his father’s sentence—only to have the two murderous secret service personnel (who had, hours earlier, killed his stepfather and mother) locate him within moments of his call. We see that this was not the first time they had located the son the moment he picked his call. You might think this is a rather science fiction scene. You’d be wrong—for this is very science fact! Welcome to the world of Global Positioning System (GPS)-enabled phones!

To most of us in the developing world, GPS might appear to be a bit fancy. However, countries like the US have been enjoying it since 1999, when the US’s Federal Communications Commission pushed through an act requiring all handsets to incorporate the technology. Known as the so-called E911 system, it enables emergency services accurately locate and pinpoint location of a mobile phone caller.

With predictions that GPS-enabled phones will quadruple by 2011, small wonder it has caught the attention of the American public. While we here in Ghana struggle for phone calls that can get through at all, most Americans have begun to place premium on GPS-capability—right there with GPRS (mobile internet)/wap capabilities, and multimedia.

With the issue of “Discgate” still lingering in the minds of people, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the fallout of the loss of 25 million people’s data would serve as reminders of the need for privacy; instead it seems to be the last thing on people’s minds.

Take last week, when Information Week reported that American university students from Montclair State University will require its students to buy and carry special cell phones equipped with GPS. If you thought that this meant that privacy had been jettisoned, here’s one for keeps: in Japan, defence ministry officials are being required to carry GPS-enabled phones so they can be located at all times. The rationale behind this is that if these officials can be located during the weekends and at all times, this will help reduce potentially-corruptible behaviour.

If one were tempted to think that this is an information society going mad, let’s just say that it less that – and more a sign of things to come!

Big Brother Watching?
Google has released a beta version of Google Maps for your mobile phone, which means that you can be located through triangulation of your cellular network. In English, it means you be located, through Google Maps, without having to lug round a GPS-enabled phone; all you need is a GPRS-enabled phone (which most phones in Ghana are). If you think it’s too high-tech, you might be spooked to know that my mobile provider (that’s always in touch) enabled me download it on my mobile through its regular GPRS. While Google Maps was not able to establish my specific location, I could clearly see “Accra”, “Nsawam”; “Swedru”; “Larteh” and “Tema”.

With this free application, which can be downloaded from Google’s mobile page (, the user’s location is seen as a blue pulsating dot. If the application is unsure of the location, it will display a paler blue circle. Unlike traditional GPS, this one can be used indoors—and drains your battery less.

Mobiles and Wireless Take Centre Stage
The wireless and mobile phone community won out last week when -- after a month-long diplomatic meeting in Geneva that was attended by delegates from observer companies, including AT&T, Boeing, Intel and Sharp, -- delegates from 164 countries agreed to earmark what calls “new sections of the finite spectrum for mobile phones and other wireless products.”

Once this new treaty comes into force, mobile phone users will experience clearer connections and faster downloads of music, movies and other data in what is known as 3G—or future generations of handheld devices. If you ever wondered, “3G” is a term coined by the UN agency in charge of telecommunications—the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)—to define mobile communications technology. Associated with 3G are increased bandwidth, and the ability to work over wireless air interfaces.

We must all now be aware of that familiar mobile phone interruption when we’re listening to the radio or watching television. What this new treaty seeks to do is to allow mobile technology use higher high-quality frequencies—without the television of television services or users of radio waves, including airlines, meteorologists and the military.

Who’s the Sleekest of Them All? has an interesting site, where you can review the top latest 20 mobile phones. They include Motorola, ZTE; Apple; Sanyo and Nokia. The prize, however, goes to Samsung, which features no less than nine new phones—quite a number of which look suspiciously like re-hashed Motorola RAZR’s. This site is certainly a boon to the mobile phone fanatic:

Alternatively, you can check out a UK-based “Phones Review” site, where, as far back as May, they listed “Ultimate Top Ten Mobiles of 2007”! You won’t be surprised to find a Motorola; Samsung; and LG in there:

Emmanuel is Ag. President of Ghanaian Association of Journalists in ICT (GHAJICT). Kindly check out: for tips, articles, and developments on ICT. Please direct all comments and/or correspondence to ekbensah AT


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