Mobile telcos are to blame for the UK’s underuse of mobile phones, according to senior Ericsson man Torbj"rn Nilsson.

“There is fundamentally no reason we shouldn’t [have] the same number of minutes [used per person on mobiles] as that of fixed line phones,” said Nilsson, an Ericsson senior vice president, “apart from price, tariffs.”

Currently the average mobile phone use is 250 minutes, while people spend upwards of 600 minutes on their wired phones a month.

But price won’t stop the inevitable takeover of mobile phones, with Ericsson and others projecting over one billion mobiles in circulation within a couple of years. Already, eight billion text messages are being sent per month.

Ericsson, one of the three biggest mobile phone suppliers, announced its strategy for the mobiles on Friday. But amidst all the hype, what future mobiles will be able to do is becoming clear.

Third generation mobile phones will still mean dropped calls and relatively slow mobile internet access for consumers until at least 2003. PCs using broadband internet access will still be a great deal faster, even then.

The next generation of mobiles, GPRS, will still use essentially the same voice technology as your current phones. This means if there are too many people trying to use their phones near you, you won’t be able to use yours. The so-called broadband generation of mobile phones, UMTS, will also use this technology until 2003.

GPRS phones are unlikely to deliver more than a 56Kbps modem does today, and probably will not reach anywhere near that level.

According to Ericsson, it will not be until 2002 that phones will reach 384Kbps. This is still far below the base broadband download speed being offered by BT today, when eventually customers are connected.

Future mobile phones have been sold to the public as being able to clear up all the problems people have with them now. Part of this hype has been the coming of packet-based phone technology, which is the way the internet works.

With packet-based systems, information is broken into small pieces when sent and reassembled later. Voice can be sent like this. But 3G phones won’t use this technology for years yet.