Cordless telephone linked to a cellular radio network. Early cellular networks used analogue technology, but all services now use a digital system. Calls are linked to the public telephone system via a network of connected base stations and exchanges; the area covered by each base station is called a cell. Cells vary in size, typically being about 5 km/3 mi across, and each has a separate low-power transmitter. Mobility is possible as calls can be made while moving from one radio cell to another. In Europe, GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) has been adopted by many countries as a digital standard, enabling travellers to use a single phone across different national networks. Tri-band mobile phones are capable of changing frequencies to allow local networks in the USA to be accessed. Quad-band phones have been developed to allow users to access virtually all of the world's GSM networks. The functionality of mobile phones is constantly being improved and has led to the development of smartphones, which allow the user to do much more than simply make and receive calls.
A trend for greater integration of phone and computer led to the development of WAP (wireless application protocol) phones in 1999. These allowed users to read e-mails and browse the Web, and by 2002 users could send digital images using a built-in digital camera. High-speed, ‘third generation’ (3G) phones were launched, capable of sending and receiving video messages, video calling, e-mail, photo-messaging, and news and information services (see 3G). In 2010, the first ‘fourth generation’ (4G) phones became commercially available, allowing significantly faster downloads to facilitate Internet use and high-definition video streaming.
Mobile phone services rely on an internal Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card. The SIM card identifies the phone to its network, can store telephone numbers, and protects users against misuse of their network account. Most mobile phone services offer a service called SMS messaging, which allows users to send each other text messages. GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) allows users to have their mobile phones permanently connected to the Internet.
In the UK, the main mobile phone networks (as of 2014) were Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Three, and Orange, together covering over 90% of the country. Most of the other UK mobile phone network providers are owned by these companies. In 2013, there were 82.7 million mobile subscriptions in the UK and an estimated 94% of all adults either owned or used a mobile phone.
In November 2003 the government made using a hand-held mobile phone while driving a vehicle illegal, punishable by a spot fine of £30 and a maximum penalty of £1,000.
Mobile phones operate using electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range, which has produced widespread debate on their safety. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) placed the radiation from mobile phone use into Category 2B, a possible human carcinogen. The risk is still low (other substances in Category 2B include coffee, coconut oil, and talcum powder), but the health recommendations of many governments are that mobile phone use should be limited to short periods, especially for children.
Mobile phone transmitting masts have sprung up all over the industrialized world. Many people living within close range of masts maintain that they are responsible for an increase in cancers and other illnesses. To date, however, there is no confirmed scientific basis for such a link.
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