Why we aren’t reviewing encrypted mobile phones

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Why we aren’t reviewing encrypted mobile phones

As our readers know, we consider the safety of information to be very important. You should shred anything that has writing on it (do you really want people to know your marketing plans, your vacation plans, or where you get your lunch?) that you should encrypt all e-mail, and that all telephone calls should be encrypted. Why then, are we not reviewing encrypted mobile phones?

The answer is that if you need satellite communications you can get a system with data capability (encryption uses a lot of bandwidth, so if you were using Inmarsat, you couldn’t use a reasonably-priced Mini M system, but would have to go to a more-expensive M-4 system) and attach an encryptor like the L-3 Privatel (http://www.l-3com.com/cs-east/programs/infosec/privatel.htm).

With a mobile phone you need GSM, since that is the most widely used technology, worldwide. Putting aside the issue that there are areas in which there is no GSM coverage (you will need to use an encrypted landline, or not talk), there are now four frequencies used: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 1900 MHz. If you travel in Latin America you will need all four. In North America you will need 850 MHz and 1900 MHz, and in Europe and Asia and Australia you will need 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. The problem is that 850 MHz is relatively new, and there are no quad-band handsets, let alone encrypted quad-band handsets.

Would you spend $2,500 (because they are so expensive they don’t sell many of them; because they don’t sell many they are very expensive) for a mobile phone that is, in essence, technologically outdated? Would you want to buy an encrypted handset for $2,500 and not be able to it in Bogotá? We wouldn’t.

Would you spend $2,500 for a quad-band encrypted handset? Well, at that price some have estimated the demand worldwide to be between 20,000 units and 30,000 units. On the other hand, we have seen estimates that if the price dropped to the $600-$800 range the demand could be a million or more. Would you spend $600 for one? We would!

Is it feasible to make an encrypted terminal at that price? You don’t need to develop the actual handset. You want to use an add-on to an existing handset, the way Nokia used the AMPS module on the 6190 (and still took a 3800 MAh battery!), or the way General Dynamics used the Tri-band Motorola Timeport in their Sectéra Secure Wireless Phone (http://63.226.32.24/sectera/gsm/index.html). This would reduce the handset portion to under $100. If a quad-band Timeport were available, or if the upcoming Motorola V-600 could take such a module, then we believe General Dynamics could change their marketing approach on the Sectéra from expensive government small quantity marketing to large quantity marketing for law enforcement and industry, and make a more-substantial profit on the lower-cost/larger run product. L-3 Communications could do the same thing with their encryption technology.

Meanwhile, I suspect we will all have to content ourselves with using encryptors on landlines and satellite communications systems.

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