Interesting story from the times -
Cellphones That Reach Alter Egos
By DAVID POGUE
On Oct. 1, Cingular will begin selling a unique $40 cellphone cradle called the FastForward. What it does can be described by a single sentence: whenever you slip your cellphone into it, the FastForward automatically routes incoming cell calls to your home or office phone.
The implications of this simple idea, though, constitute a much broader topic. In fact, you could write a whole column on it.
For you, the consumer, this elegant device confers a number of benefits. First, you save all kinds of money, because the rerouted calls don't use up any of your monthly cellular minutes. Incoming calls behave exactly as though your callers dialed your home or office number directly.
Second, the FastForward means that your friends and family have to memorize only one phone number for you instead of two, three or four. When you're out and about, their calls to your cell number ring the cellphone; when you're at home or at work, calls to that same cell number ring your home or desk phone (known as your land line). Your callers never know the difference. This is a big deal for people who must always be reachable, like real estate agents, heart surgeons and expectant fathers.
You pick up a sound-quality benefit, too. For example, a Cingular representative admitted that Cingular coverage in his own home was, as he bravely put it, "not swell." But now he doesn't care. Whenever he's at home (and therefore out of prime cell range), his FastForward gizmo shunts incoming calls away from his cellphone and onto the perfect clarity of his land line.
Finally, when you're upstairs, you no longer have to run all the way downstairs just to answer your cellphone. All right, having to run to find a ringing cellphone may not rank right up there as the most sympathy-worthy complaint of the new millennium. (Heck, it's the only exercise some people get.) But the point is that the FastForward makes every phone extension in your home ring simultaneously. If you're upstairs, you answer the call upstairs.
This gadget is no low-tech A-B box. It doesn't even connect to a phone jack (only to a power outlet, because it also recharges your cellphone). When you insert your cellphone, it transmits a short text command to the cellular network itself that says, in effect, "Begin diverting calls now." In other words, the call switching doesn't take place in your home. It happens much farther upstream, which is why incoming calls don't eat into your monthly minutes.
You can redirect your cellphone's calls to any local number, not just your home phone. In fact, you can create up to three different entries in your cellphone's phonebook - labeled CF1, CF2, and CF3 (for call forwarding) - that correspond to the land line numbers where you spend the most time. Then, a switch on the cradle lets you specify which number you want to ring: CF1 for your home, CF2 for your office, and CF3 for your secret apartment, for example. (You can change any of these numbers at any time.)
To turn off the call forwarding - when you're leaving home, for example - you're supposed to press a Cancel button on the cradle and wait four seconds. During this time, the cellphone sends a "Cancel" text message to the Cingular network. Incoming calls will once again ring your cellphone (and use up your minutes).
If you just yank the phone out of the cradle without pressing the Cancel button, though, you hear an alarm that seems to say, "Hope you know what you're doing, Bub." You've just put yourself into a weird sort of cellular limbo: you can make outgoing calls on your cellphone, but all incoming calls still ring at home, no matter where your errands take you.
That situation may not always be as nonsensical as it sounds. For one thing, it leaves the cellphone ready to dial, yet relieves you of the burden of having to remember to shut it off before entering a meeting, movie or religious ceremony. For another, it saves you money when you're going to be out of touch anyway, because your home answering machine rather than your cellular voice mail can pick up the missed calls. (In any case, you can turn off the call forwarding at any time by dialing a code on the cellphone.)
Without a doubt, the remarkable FastForward is elegantly simple in function but deliciously flexible in potential. But there is, as you might suspect, some fine print.
First of all, the FastForward works only with Cingular cellphones. That's just tough rocks for the residents of Denver, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Montana and anywhere else with iffy Cingular coverage. The FastForward cradle will happily recharge phones from other carriers but won't give you any of that call-forwarding magic. (You need a different cradle model for each phone brand, by the way. The Motorola cradle will be available on Oct. 1; cradles for Nokia, Siemens and Sony Ericsson phones will arrive in November.)
Second, the FastForward's call-redirecting feature is either free or costs $3 per month, depending on a couple of factors. It's free if your local phone company is one of Cingular's corporate parents - SBC or BellSouth - and you have elected to receive a single combined monthly bill for local and cell service. (And who on earth wouldn't want a single bill? "People who don't like the sticker shock of seeing the grand total," ventures a Cingular spokesman.) BellSouth also requires that you have at least two calling features (call waiting, for example) on your land line.
The service is also free if you're willing to let redirected calls eat up your monthly cellphone minutes, thus giving up one of the system's main perks. (Which is a better deal: paying $3 a month, or paying for the cellular minutes that the FastForward would have saved you? Only a few hours snuggled up with a spreadsheet can yield the right answer for you.)
Finally, the FastForward deprives you of one common cellphone trick. When you're trying to call home but you've been getting a busy signal for hours, you can no longer resort to calling the culprit on the cellphone to say, "Honey, get off the phone! I'm trying to call you!" After all, calling the cellphone amounts to calling the same busy home number. (You can still send text messages to the cellphone in its cradle, however, in hopes that the "You've got mail" icon might catch the yakking homebody's eye.)
When you really think about it, the chief function of the FastForward is to reduce the cellular minutes you use up. It's rather selfless of Cingular to invent a gadget that's designed to make you use less of its service, isn't it?
Not necessarily. Behind the scenes, this humble gadget is quietly helping to execute a number of corporate missions.
For example, the FastForward will redirect your calls only to numbers in your local Cingular calling area. (For New York City customers, for example, that region includes Manhattan, Long Island, Connecticut north to Danbury and most of New Jersey.) That's a limitation designed to serve the interest of SBC and BellSouth, which aren't about to let you hand off your calls to other long-distance companies.
Similarly, growing numbers of people are dropping their home-phone service, preferring only a cellphone - a trend that SBC and BellSouth would clearly like to reverse. For its part, Cingular hopes that if enough people buy FastForward, it will benefit from less congestion on its wireless network.
And in an era when many people choose a carrier on price alone, Cingular is trying to differentiate itself by offering, yes, singular features. (Cingular is also the only carrier that rolls over your unused talk minutes from month to month, instead of discarding them.)
So yes, the FastForward symbolizes a strike against some unsettling signs in the cellular sector. But no matter what's in it for Cingular and its owners, you, the consumer, also stand to gain a lot, both in dollars and in convenience; the FastForward is the proverbial win-win. Cingular deserves considerable credit not only for dreaming up an ingenious gadget, but also - for a company that's never developed hardware before - designing it so simply and so well.