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Dr Jack Rowley
director of research and sustainability at the GSM Association

The car and air travel convey people. Email and the internet convey ideas. Mobile telephony allows connection of people and ideas while on the move. Unlike fixed telephones, which connect places, mobile phones connect people. As mobile telephony moves into its third and fourth decade of mass consumer use, the key theme will be boundaries. Boundaries for the individual and society related to privacy, work-life balance, use by children and etiquette, or boundaries imposed by governments concerned about the power of immediate person-to-person communication.

Individuals like to exercise control over their boundaries, for example, teenagers want to know where their parents are but don’t want the reverse to be true! Technical tools are under development that are aware of the surroundings but society will need to determine the balance between the safety benefits of location information in an emergency versus the privacy concerns of being able to accurately reconstruct a person’s movements. There are already instances of SMS coordinated ‘smartmobs’ contributing to changes of governments and of mobile networks being turned off or censored at government order to control internal or external information borders.

Telecommunications is a highly regulated industry, however, unbalanced regulation can restrict social and economic benefits. Where governments loosen controls, the debate on boundaries will ultimately resolve into questions of personal freedom and responsibility.

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