Business travelers may leave laptops and PDAs at home for short trips. But few will so much as walk down the hall without a cell phone. Approximately 400 million cell phones are sold annually, and their use continues to grow due to improving devices and services. Phones are smaller, lighter and easier to use, plus they sport nifty new features such as SMS. With nearly 85 percent of the almost 129 million subscribers on digital networks, quality of service is also improving, according to the Cellular Communications and Internet Association. Costs are also staying low: average monthly bills were up less than 5 percent to over $47.
Yet cell phone sales are down as telecommunications networks have been slow to upgrade to the 2.5G standard, which provides faster access to the Internet and e-mail through wireless devices such as cell phones and wireless-enabled PDAs. Without networks that can support features such as wireless e-mail and Internet access, advanced phones are languishing on the shelves. "Only about 20 percent of the U.S. is covered by 2.5G networks," says Purdy. "And, at best, they operate at speeds equivalent to a phone line."
That's changing, says James Murray, a venture capitalist in Charlottesville, Virginia, specializing in the wireless industry. Cell phone-PDAs from Handspring, Kyocera and others that use cellular networks to do the same job as the BlackBerry wireless devices are already here.
"By 2010," Purdy says, "all professional people in the developed world are going to carry around wireless-enabled devices that support both voice and data."