Car Phone

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Despite its popularity and a solid following of enthusiasts, advances in technology (specifically digital technology), sounded the death knell for the car phone.

Enhanced 9-1-1 (E911)

Ironically, the death of the car phone was brought about by the Federal Communication Commission’s desire to improve emergency service. In 1996 the FCC’s introduced wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) so that mobile phones could now provide 911 dispatchers with information technology that allows them to locate the geographical position of mobile phones and see the mobile telephone number of the originating call (FCC).

Prior to 1996, people who called 911 on mobile phones had to access their service providers (to verify subscription service from a cellular service provider) before their call was put through to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). In 1996 the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ruled that a 911 call must instead go directly to a PSAP. Furthermore, the FCC required that all mobile phones manufactured and sold after February 13, 2000 using analog networks must have a method for processing 911 calls (FCC).

The FCC implemented the E911 rules in two phases. In 1998, Phase I required carriers to identify the call’s originating number and provide it to PSAPs. It also required that the location of the caller be accurate to within 1 mile. In 2001, Phase II required carriers to provide the latitude and longitude of 911 calls within 50 to 300 meters. The deployment of E911 also required either upgrades for existing equipment or the development of new equipment (FCC).


In February 2008 the Federal Communications Commission allowed mobile operators, the largest including AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless, to shut down their analog (AMPS – Advanced Mobile Phone System) networks. Unfortunately, all car phones were operating on this analog system. At the same time, rural mobile operators also shut down AMPS. This resulted in all mobile phones being serviced by digital networks (GSM – Global System for Mobile Communications or CDMA – Code Division Multiple Access). The outcome was that all mobile phones (including the large established base of car phones) operating on analog networks (approximately 1% of all mobile phones) became inoperable (Washington Post).



So what has replaced the car phone? One of the early entrances into the in-vehicle communication category following the car phone was OnStar. In 1995 OnStar was created by General Motors (GM), Electronic Data Systems, and Hughes Electronics Corporation. However, GM became responsible for designing, integrating, and distributing OnStar capabilities for vehicles.

OnStar is an in-vehicle three-button safety and security system that provides:

   * 24-hour access an advisor
   * Connection to emergency services
   * Hands-free calling
     Your browser may not support display of this image. (OnStar) 


But not all drivers need, want, or have access to all the services built into OnStar. Instead, the advancement of technology, specifically mobile phones on digital networks, has become the most popular alternative. One of the reasons for their success is that most digital phones are able to use Bluetooth, a short-range wireless communications technology capable of replacing the cables needed to connect devices. It has achieved global acceptance and is successful at connecting any Bluetooth enabled device, anywhere in the world, to other Bluetooth enabled devices (up to 7) in close proximity (approximately 30 feet). Bluetooth is able to simultaneously handle both data and voice transmissions – this provides innovations such as a hands-free headset for voice calls (Bluetooth). In short, Bluetooth has become the perfect substitute for the car phone.

Lexus has been one of the leaders in implementing Bluetooth technology in their automobiles in the past few years. The company manufactures some of the world’s most technologically sophisticated vehicles – including many that come with built in Bluetooth as a standard feature. This technology works by connecting any Bluetooth equipped cell phone to the vehicle itself – allowing calls to be made and received through the car’s built-in touch screen or controls on the steering wheel. Drivers can talk without holding their cell phone and hear through the car’s audio system (Lexus).

Your browser may not support display of this image. (Lexus)

Bluetooth’s hands-free capability has increased the technology’s popularity globally. For example, in 2004 Japan (like many other parts of the world) began enforcing stricter laws and penalties against using a cell phone while driving. However, because Bluetooth allows drivers to stay more focused on the road and less on their phone calls, it has allowed drivers to stay connected even with the new laws. In turn, this has increased the popularity and production of Bluetooth technologies in cars around the world (The Nikkei Weekly, Japan).

Works Cited

Bluetooth. “Basics.” Bluetooth. 25 Sept. 2008. < Technology/Basics.htm>.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC). “Enhanced 9-1-1 (E911).” FCC. 25 Sept. 2008. <>.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC). “Enhanced 911 – Wireless Services.” FCC. 25 Sept. 2008. <>.

Lexus. “Bluetooth Phone – Overview.” Lexus. 22 Sept. 2008. <>.

OnStar. “OnStar Explained.” OnStar. 22 Sept. 2008. < explore/index.jsp>.

Shimbun, Nihon Keizai. “Carmakers using Bluetooth for Wireless Convenience.” The Nikkei Weekly [Japan]. 15 Jan. 2007. ProQuest. NYU. 23 Sept. 2008. <>.

Washington Post. “Most Analog Cellular to Fade Away Next Week.” Washington Post. 15 Feb. 2008. ProQuest. NYU. 23 Sept. 2008. <>.