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Don't pitch phones yet

May 9, 2003

BY HOWARD WOLINSKY RED STREAK

Four years ago, telecom experts were about ready to write off the 100-year-old wired phone system, known as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), predicting it would be eclipsed by the Internet and wireless phones.

But the Illinois Institute of Technology and Lucent Technologies have developed software to turn POTS into PANS (Pretty Amazing New Stuff), moving phones into the Internet loop.

Over the last two years, Vijay Gurbani, a doctoral candidate at IIT, and his colleagues have added Internet digital magic to analog phones. The work, which has one patent so far, is expected to result in Lucent commercializing the services for home and office phones.

"In the Internet era, wired phones were written off," Gurbani said. "Cellular companies were spending billions on new infrastructure to make 3G (third-generation) services available for cell phones. I wanted to see if it was possible to make 3G-type services for landlines."

It was possible. Researchers developed software that recycles POTS to handle Buddy Lists and instant messaging, successful services over the Internet, and also available over cell phones and personal digital appliances.

"The phone network has been used for voice capabilities and the Internet for its data capabilities. The two networks have virtually never talked to each other--until now," said Xian-He Sun, IIT computer science professor.

Researchers developed software to connect landlines to the Internet. In a demonstration, a landline phone was lifted and replaced on the cradle, sending a signal to let the network know the user was home, popping up an icon on a computer Buddy List.

Sun said the wired phone network could send instant messages to Internet users, notifying them of missed calls, a sort of mobile caller-ID to check on traditional phones.

He said companies could use these Buddy Lists to set up large-scale phone conferences. In addition, caller ID screens could be used to receive text messages.

Gurbani said other services will be developed. For instance, he said the framework could make possible "proximity notification," a service triggering an e-mail from a friend's cell phone when the friend is nearby. He said the technology could help law-enforcement officials track suspects.




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