The GSM Association, the industry organization for manufacturers of the most widely-used variety of mobile phones, wants to get mobile phones into the hands of the three billion or so people who live in areas covered by GSM networks, but who don't have a phone of any kind. Cost is the main barrier -- the cost of the service, local taxes, and cost of the unit itself. The GSMA intends to tackle all three, but their first initiative is the one over which they have the most control: the cost of the phone hardware.
The Emerging Markets Handset program asked 18 different phone vendors to submit designs for phones with an end-user cost of under $40, with a longer term goal of sub-$30 (this in comparison to typical cost at present of close to $100). The GSMA chose the Motorola C114 platform as its reference phone; Motorola will begin production this Spring. The initial production target is six million handsets in the first six months, ramping up from there as production efficiencies allow for even lower phone prices. Nine emerging market mobile phone operators (covering much of Africa, Asia and the Middle East) have agreed to participate in the program, as well, providing lower cost service to match the phone. ("Emerging markets" are defined as having a below-average rating on the World Bank's GNP per capita index and a mobile phone penetration of under 50%; there are about 125 such countries.)
As noted here recently, mobile phones are particularly useful in the developing world, as they provide ready access to market information otherwise unavailable in rural and small village communities. Any disaster information/alert system relying on mobile phones and SMS will benefit from the emerging market handsets, too. And in a world where young adults often have to leave their home communities (and sometimes home countries) to find work, we shouldn't underestimate the value of simple communication.
People have long been concerned about the effects of close range microwave transmission from mobile phones on the brain. In this regard, geneticist Mae Wan Ho posted this on her web site:
Confirmed: Mobile Phones Break DNA & Scramble Genomes
Children under eight should not use mobile phones and those between eight and 14 should use them only when absolutely necessary, warns Prof. William Stewart, Chair of UKs National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB). Sir William issued the same warning 5 years ago, when he chaired an enquiry that resulted in the Stewart Report on Mobile Phones and Health. But his advice has been ignored. One in four 7-10 year olds now has a mobile phone, double the level in 2001.
The key technical point is:
Several of the teams detected significant DNA breaks in human and other animal cells at exposure levels far below the official limits. DNA breakages were observed after 15h exposure to ELF-EMFs as low as 35 microT, and after 18h exposure at 20 microT. Similarly, for the RF region, DNA breakages as well as chromosomal abnormalities were observed at the lowest SAR level investigated, 0.3W/kg.
The research report in which this information is embedded does not conclude that mobile phones are dangerous, and much of Dr. Hos article looks at the poor science (and implicitly vested interests) in back of this.
Some silver linings have clouds.
Andrew, thanks. From last I read, studies have been inconsistent in showing damage from mobile phone radio signals (and it hasn't just been industry-funded research showing a lack of damage; if I recall correctly, the first study to show the possibility of harm was in fact from the cell phone industry itself). While it's certainly worth watching more closely, I wouldn't yet say that it's been "confirmed."