Jamming Innovation
By Mike Masnick, Wed Oct 13 22:15:00 GMT 2004

For all the talk about legalizing mobile phone jammers, people keep missing one important problem: by jamming voice communications, everyone misses out on potentially innovative data applications as well.

The talk of the week in the mobile world is about France's decision to allow mobile phone jammers at performance locations, to stop the annoying intrusive ringing while everyone else is trying to watch a movie or a play. It's not just France, of course. Plenty of other places are using jamming equipment on a regular basis -- often despite laws against it. Those against such things quickly (as they should) point out why this could be very dangerous in emergency situations, but there are even more problems with the idea.

By this point, it should be quite clear that mobile phones are about more than just phones. Being able to call people up on the go may be what brought us to where we are, but phones are now data devices almost as much as they are voice devices. The purpose of a mobile phone jam is basically to stop one thing: phones ringing. It's the ringing that's the biggest nuisance, followed by people answering the call and rudely talking over whatever is happening. However, jamming mobile phones goes beyond just stopping the ringing, to stopping all mobile related activity. In an age where data services are increasingly useful, this move towards jamming can slow down that innovation.

Just in the theater example alone, it's easy to think of situations where mobile data services would be useful. Mobile payment systems are starting to get more attention, and it's not hard to think about ways you could buy your theater ticket via your mobile. Either that, or you could simply have the tickets display on the phone itself, rather than wasting paper with a printed ticket. Both of these cases may be taken care of outside the theater where a jamming system might not reach, but even deep within the jammed zone, there are plenty of innovative uses. What if you get to your seat and find them to be not quite what you wanted? Perhaps that obstructed view is a bit more obstructed than you had hoped. A mobile application could let you see what other seats are still available, show you the view, and let you "click to upgrade" on the spot -- if service is available.

Meanwhile, entertainment is getting more innovative and interactive all the time. The story of how successful text messaging has been when combined with reality TV shows has been repeated many times. It's not hard to move that into a theater situation where audience members get to help choose how to develop a story line, following the old "choose your own adventure" model, letting everyone vote via their mobile phones.

If the real issue is to stop intrusive and annoying ringing, why not just focus on technologies that automatically quiet phones, rather than cutting them off completely? Companies have been working on these types of solutions for years. While they still won't work with all phones, an increasing number of phones can be made to work with such systems -- especially if a standard "silencer" system is agreed upon. Unfortunately, part of the real problem may be that some people may be afraid that patrons will pay more attention to the connected devices in their hands rather than the entertainment in front of them. There's a simple solution to that as well: become more entertaining.