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Disposable phones - What's New? Disposable phones... here they come!

04 September 2002
Written by Richard Browning

I have a dream. I dream of a world where everything is at my fingertips. Where I ask and I receive, where my wish is someone else’s command, where my every need is met in an instant. A world with no time wasting paper work, no constricting contracts, no useless handset features, no bells and whistles to make things look “hip” and no saving up for things.

I dream of a simple world. Am I asking too much? Is that too much to expect?

Apparently there are some people out there who agree with me and think simple is good; who think that options are not necessary if something serves its purpose well. Why do I need auto-focus, telescopic zoom lenses, shutter speeds, aperture speeds, 100-speed film for best results, 400 speed film for low light on my camera when all I want to do is take a simple photo of that cute little bird on my trip to London? All I need is a camera with film and a button to push when I want to capture a moment. It would even be good if I could get rid of the whole lot when I’m finished taking photos. That’s what I’m talking about; simple and easy - and that’s how the disposable camera came about.

The simplicity of convenience
Simple and easy are not words that you’ll often hear people associate with mobile phones though. The many hassles of handsets and contracts and the prices involved inspire stress on many of us. But like the disposable camera, there is soon to be an answer. Several American companies, the leader being Hop-On Inc., have pioneered a disposable phone. That’s right, I will repeat for those who just blacked out from disbelief: a disposable phone.

At first, this idea may seem a little unnerving, given that only 10 years ago the humble “cell phone” was about the size of a house brick and costs as much as a small car. But with recent advances in technology, it is now possible.

Hop on and off easily
The Hop-On disposable phone is approximately the same size as a deck of playing cards and is completely recyclable. The phone is basically a regular mobile phone without the more expensive features like an LCD screen, address book or games. This keeps the cost down but also keeps call quality at a maximum. The handset is simple and functional featuring a keypad with the usual numbers and only three other buttons: “call”, “end” and “911”.

The phone functions like any other phone; type in the number you wish to call and press the call button. Listening and speaking is done via a standard handsfree kit (with earbud and microphone on a single cord, which plugs into the handset.). Receiving calls is done by pressing the “call” button when the phone rings. Also, in an attempt to make mobile phones safer, they have included an emergency “911” button, for quick and easy calls to US emergency number 911. The cost of the handset is about USD $40 and includes 60 prepaid minutes of calls and a battery charger. Hop-On uses existing networks in the US but charge their own call rates (in much the same way as Orange uses the Telstra CDMA network in Australia).

Without knowing too much about American carriers and their call charges, Hop-On is adamant that this is a competitive call rate. Also, the Hop-On phone incurs no roaming charges in the US; users can call form anywhere in the US to anywhere else in the US for the same rate. The phone can be renewed with more minutes later on, for a charge of course and the battery life on the phone can also be recharged with the enclosed charger, though it’s more likely that calls will run out before the battery.

At the end of the phone’s usefulness, it can either be thrown out or returned to Hop-On for a $5 US rebate. They then recycle the phone, melting down the case, recasting it, recharging the call minutes and putting it back out into the marketplace. These phones will be sold everywhere: service stations, phone shops, supermarkets - virtually anywhere you can buy pre-paid recharge cards at the moment.

C-P-S: convenience, practicality and simplicity
So why is it such a breakthrough? It’s all about convenience, practicality and simplicity. There are so many places a simple and cheap phone could be useful. The first is for tourists. Upon going to the US for a holiday you could buy a Hop-On phone for $40 and be able to ring any place you wished to visit and also be contactable by anyone you may meet on your travels. When you leave the country, simply throw the phone out.

Instruction of use

Secondly, the phone is useful in an emergency kit. USD $40 is not much to pay for a phone that can sit in the glove box of a car and be used for emergencies only.

Thirdly, the phone is ideal for teens and kids. Concerned parents don’t have to invest in an expensive handset and contract to give to their kids, but just give them a cheap Hop-On phone which is not as much of a burden if it was to become lost, stolen, wet, or broken. It is also great for those who aren’t suitable for a contract, such as teens and the credit challenged.

Aussie-land disposable phones?
As far as Australia is concerned, it is unknown how long it will be before we see disposable phones here. Hop-On has plans to take over the world with their disposable phones, but it’s unlikely we’ll see anything until the US market is well and truly up and running; which is just starting to happen as I write this. In the US, the phones are said to work on both their GSM and CDMA networks, but whether or not they do that down under is yet to be seen.

The overall plan is to take disposable phones to the whole world and I personally can see it happening. The concept is a very good one, simplifying mobile phones to the point that landline phones have been - making them cheap and accessible to the average person. Will it be just as common as disposable cameras? Maybe!

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