Asia's cell phone users face a jam
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- To restore silence in mobile-crazy Asia, some local agencies are now opting for cell phone jamming devices in public places.
The leaders of India's parliament have installed jamming devices and Hong Kong's Office of Telecommunications (OFTA) is currently exploring a proposal for signal blocks in cinemas, restaurants and libraries.
This technological alternative to mobile etiquette does not ring well with the mobile industry, especially as Asia matures into what will be the world's most significant wireless market.
India's parliament a cell-free zone
Leaders of India's parliament have installed jamming systems in both the lower and upper houses after repeated requests for MPs to not bring mobile phones inside the chambers were ignored.
The Hindustan Times reported last week that the final straw was when a chorus of cell phones repeatedly interrupted President K.R. Narayanan's customary address to a joint session of parliament.
"No matter how serious is the business, one thing that seems to have become a constant companion of some of the MPs is the cell phone," the Hindustan Times reported.
Such jamming devices disconnect mobile signals from the base station to the cell phones.
Hong Kong's mobile mania
Hong Kong's OFTA is exploring the possibility of installing such devices in public places, a reaction to requests from citizens for a mobile phone block. Hong Kong boasts a considerable mobile-phone penetration rate of 70 percent, according to AC Nielsen eRatings.
It also boasts a cell phone craze that at one point seduced a doctor to take mobile phone calls during surgery last year.
Telecommunications officials -- wary that immediate mobile reception jams would spark a protest -- insist that it is taking gradual measures to consider the mobile signal jamming plan.
Mobile phone blocking is in fact illegal in the United States, where FCC regulations prohibit the use, sale, and manufacture of signal blocking technology.
"We think this may have some public concern, and great influence on the public. We are planning to do public consultation and are still working on the details," OFTA spokesperson Diana Foo told CNN.com.
Potential for public blocks on cell phone use is also of great concern to players in the mobile phone sector.
According to research firm IDC, Asia (including Japan) has more than 222 million wireless users, a population expected to grow to 481 million by 2003.
Asia's mobile sector knows this is an issue. They are opposed to any legal jamming of mobile signals, and instead advocate more the kinder and gentler approach of "cellular etiquette."
"We think people have to learn to use the phone in a right way," says Ericsson China vice president David Almstrom.
"You're in a meeting, you switch off the phone. You can get reached in an alternative way."
Public relations campaigns to encourage more polite cell phone behavior have just started to emerge in the United States, such as Nokia's "Cell Phone Courtesy Week" program in California.
Such efforts have yet to roll out in Asia where the incessant ringing of mobile phones is the norm.
"Mobile phone etiquette needs to be done a lot more," says Almstrom.
"That's why these jamming things are becoming quite popular here."
OFTA, Office of the Telecommunications Authority, Hong Kong
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