Saturday, November 11, 2006

Why are wireless telephone handsets so useless?

I am now on my second wireless telephone system. The first, a Siemens gigaset died within 18 months due to the poor quality of the components used despite costing almost $2,000. After the third $300 basestation died it was time to write off the nine proprietary and system specific handsets at over $100 each.

The other problem with the Siemens was that visitors found the system unintuitive and had to be shown how to use it. So even though I found no difficulty using it the system was a constant source of aggravation.

The second system, an AT&T badged Uniden system was a lot cheaper but offers fewer features. It only supports one line so I have to have a separate basestation and handsets for the office line. The basestations only support 6 phones each. Again the handsets are proprietary and specific to one basestation.

My rule is that a phone should always be where you are likely to need it. 12 handsets may sound a lot but it isn't really. Each member of the family needs one in their bedroom - thats 4 plus one for the guest bedroom, two for the offices, one for the kitchen, living room, hot tub and workshop. Another will be needed if we get round to building a garage. My house is a bit larger than most but there is no real reason why there should be any limit on the number of handsets. If I was designing the system I would design it to support at least 64. Another related problem is that the wireless signal is not really strong enough to cover the whole house. This is not unusual and there should be provision for repeater stations.

The AT&T and Siemens systems both have half-baked directory support. Both systems assume that you will want to have different directories on every handset. On the AT&T you have to program each number into each handset separately. This is very tedious with 6 handsets. so as a result people wander round the house to find the 'right' handset to call a person. The Siemens had a scheme for copying the directory between phones but this was also half-baked. To copy the directory you had to enter the command on every phone separately.

Both systems are poor when it comes to handling area codes. Using the redial feature on the AT&T always fails unless you remember to press the right sequence of buttons to select the correct area code. This can and therefore should be done automatically.

Another irritating feature of both systems is the lack of features to control which handset rings when. I don't want the phone to ring at all in the bedroom at night. There are some callers whose calls I want to go straight to voicemail and some that I just want to hear a fast busy.

The reason for the lack of usability in these systems is that they are all limited by the user interface of the handset. Typing in callers using a keypad is a pain. The phone system should have a network interface and allow remote management via the Web.

My ideal home wireless telephone system would be WiFi based. Both the phone lines and the fax line are VOIP. More important than the technology though would be the feature set:

  • Use standards based non-proprietary protocols.
  • Support a minimum of 16 handsets, preferably more.
  • Support a minimum of 4 repeater stations.
  • Cost less than $200 per basestation, $50 per handset.
  • Support at least two lines.
  • All management operations accessible through Web interface.
  • Directory entries automatically replicated to every handset.
  • Operation of the handset to follow familiar use model.
  • Central reporting of battery status
  • Support all existing features (speakerphone, headset jack.

Lithium ion batteries would be a welcome but non-essential addition.

I don't think that it would have taken very much thought to realize the need for any of these features. Why does it take the manufacturers so long to understand?

No comments: