A Swedish communications company has asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to test a new, all-digital phone system for office buildings that will replace conventional desk phones with cordless models.
Ericsson Paging Systems Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of LM Ericsson of Stockholm, said this new cordless phone system will give business users in the United States, for the first time, "true mobility within the confines of an office building."
"A businessman or woman will be able to travel throughout a building and be contacted without having to tell his or her secretary where he orshe is going," the company stated in comments submitted to the FCC this week.
Ericsson has asked the FCC for permission to test the network in Washington, D.C., and in Anaheim, Calif., where Ericsson has offices. The initial test phase of the project will be limited to Ericsson sites, said Peter Murray, marketing manager for Ericsson North America.
Users on the network will be able to roam anywhere in an office building or high-rise -- an elevator, stairwell, restaurant or executive wash room -- without having to miss a call, Mr. Murray said.
The system allows users to place or accept calls as with a conventional phone, he said.
The only difference, he said, is that the in-office phone "can go with you wherever you go."
"Instead of putting a pager in your pocket, you just put the whole phonein your pocket," Mr. Murray said.
The new system will work much like a conventional cellular phone network, but on a much smaller scale.
The system works like this: Tiny "cells" no bigger than a 2-inch sheaf of typing paper are scattered throughout a building, providing a network of relay stations for conversations on the cordless phones. The cells, which can cover a radius of about 180 feet each, automatically hand off conversations as a subject moves throughout a building, allowing users to roam freely without going out of range of the system. Handoffs are instantaneous.
Because Ericsson's system is all-digital and encrypted, there is no degradation in the quality of sound as conversations are passed from cell to cell, and conversations cannotbe easily intercepted, Mr. Murray said.
Incoming and outgoing calls are routed through the building's PBX, essentially an automated switchboard, for sorting and routing to the correct destination.
Mr. Murray said conventional PBXs will have to be modified to handle Ericsson's wireless phones. Within a few years, however, it is expected that "wireless PBXs will replace the PBX as we know it today," he said.
Handsets for the new system are to be unveiled at an industry trade show in California next week. They weigh about 6 ounces and are designed to fit comfortably into a pocket, Mr. Murray said. The handsets, designed by Motorola Corp., provide users with six hours of talk time and 60 hours of "standby" time, after which they must be recharged. A regular battery recharger is used for that purpose, Mr. Murray.
If the trials go well and the FCC approves the necessary spectrum allocation for the new service -- the system uses a low-power radio frequency that is not supposed to interfere with other licensees -- Ericsson could be ready to start selling the system commercially as early as next year, Mr. Murray said.
Ericsson plans to aim the system at business users first but expects to move into the consumer market later, he said.
Ericsson has a similar system already in use in Britain, Mr. Murray said, but it allows only for one-way calling.