Cisco Blogs

Mobile Safety

October 14, 2008 - 3 Comments

Flickr: Cell phones while drivingDuring a meeting break, I step outside to use my mobile phone. As I finish the call, an older gentleman jokes that in his day, they all smoked during breaks and risked lung cancer; now we all use mobiles and risk brain cancer. But with more than a billion mobile phones in use, any considerable health risks would probably have appeared by now. For instance, the recent Interphone study seems inconclusive, flawed with various biases. Perhaps the $30 million cost of the study could have been better spent on distributing free sunscreen, if the goal is cancer prevention.In some discussions about femtocells, I’ve heard concerns about a new source of radiation in your home. But actually, since a nearby femtocell is easier to reach than a distant cell tower, the phone can reduce its transmit power and irradiate your head less, if ever so slightly. As usual, I’d expect most users would put aside such worries in favor of convenience and cost advantages.A much more substantial danger of mobile devices is letting them distract you while driving. California recently passed a “hands-free” law requiring the use of a headset or speaker, rather than holding the phone to your ear. Given California car culture, an outright ban on mobile phone use while driving would have been difficult, but experience strongly suggests it’s the conversation that’s distracting, more than holding the phone. (In fact, the added fuss of activating a Bluetooth speaker has probably raised the risk for many people.) I’m not sure the hands-free law makes us much safer, but it will sell more accessories for the mobile phone industry, so score a point for their lobbyists.Even more dangerous than talking is texting while driving. A recent British study suggests that texting while driving is substantially more dangerous than driving drunk or stoned. This finding makes intuitive sense. Taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your mind off the situation seems like a recipe for disaster. Such a disaster recently befell the passengers of a Los Angeles commuter train, when their engineer plowed into a freight train without even braking, apparently distracted as he sent his last text message just 22 seconds before impact.The Mobile Internet is very exciting, but it can also be very distracting. If you’re doing something dangerous, like driving, put your mobile device away. And if you see drivers wearing this sort of video glasses, give them a wide berth indeed!

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  1. Thanks for your response — it opens up the discussion.Maybe a separate blog post on Cisco’s drive for RAN, Radio Access Network, would help readers get a fuller picture of how mobile networks work? On the other hand, maybe the fearful segment will begin to be afraid of their GSM phones?

  2. Maria, thanks for your excellent comments.I admire your emphasis on personal responsibility when choosing whether to bring home a femtocell, but I expect our litigious society could take a different turn. Consider the woman who sued McDonald’s for burning herself with coffee! That said, I think femtocells are even safer than coffee.Meanwhile, your observations about femtocells’ place in the infrastructure makes good sense. In fact, our colleagues from the former Scientific Atlanta are key in our femtocell projects, as they have unique experience in deploying and managing millions of devices in the home. Turns out, those issues can be even more challenging that the radio technology.

  3. Maybe I’m wrong, but aren’t Femto Cells consumer devices, like home access points and cell phones? Consumers can choose to use them or not, and therefore take the risk of consequences? The readership of this blog is probably knowlegeable about FCs and the implications for network management, but I’d like to make a closer linkage between Femtos and Cisco’s business. Here’s a good short quote from a credible source reported in Reuters (July 2008): Femtocells represent a very different approach to mobile network architecture and therefore require a suitably different approach to network management. The similarity to fixed broadband networks isobvious so TR-069, the dominant standard for the management of broadband gateways and other consumer devices, such as set top boxes, VoIP devices, and storage devices, is the natural choice,”” said George Dobrowski, The Broadband Forum’s Chairman and President. “”With femtocells likely in many cases to be included in home gateways, thismakes the use of a common protocol especially fitting.””Excepted from the full article titled “”Femto Forum Adopts Field-Proven Management Protocol to Facilitate Large-Scale Femtocell””Maria Tseng”