Bored Less by Cordless

Back in the 1980s — more than a century after the development of the corded telephone — cordless phones started entering American homes. Consumers enjoyed their flexibility but patiently endured their quality and range constraints.

Companies responded by releasing phones that worked in an ever-escalating range of frequencies to escape more wireless interference. Anyone who has bought a cordless phone in the last 10 years has probably seen labels such as 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. Each has proven a temporary refuge, though. The 2.4 GHz band, for example, is prone to interference from microwave ovens and Wi-Fi networks that have become a popular option for accessing the Web from a notebook PC. The cordless home phone hasn't had a home of its own.

That is now changing rapidly. A standard called DECT (Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telephony) that has been in use in Europe for years was approved by the Federal Communications Commission last year for use in the United States. Unlike previous cordless telephone standards, DECT is dedicated to cordless phones, so it is practically immune to interference from other wireless signals.

In the short time that DECT phones have been available from brands such as GE, VTech, Uniden, AT&T and Panasonic, they have captured 10 percent of the revenue for the nearly $700 million cordless phone market. That's even more impressive given that DECT phones have a much higher average price than other technologies.

DECT has entered the market as more consumers, particularly young adults, use their mobile phones as their only phone. To counter that trend, manufacturers have taken advantage of some of DECT's other features as well as trying to take advantage of some of some cellular technologies and business dynamics.

The GE InfoLink, for example, takes advantage of DECT's data capabilities to deliver updates from popular Web sites directly to different handsets in the home. And the brand's CellFusion phone allows you to place and receive calls via your Bluetooth cell phone. This enables you to take advantage of those long distance minutes included in your cellular plan with the convenience and coverage of cordless technology in parts of the home where there may not be great coverage.

Next year, look for a DECT phone combined with a digital picture frame. If you have Caller ID, the faces of loved ones can be displayed in seven diagonal inches of LCD glory along with their phone numbers — just the thing for grandma when Mother's Day rolls around.

For the less sentimental, two-line DECT phones should also finally appear for those who want to maintain a separate line for a home business.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group.

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