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You can hold the phone up for all to see, Tim, but some won't be able to hear it properly



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M E D I A S T A T E M E N T Stephen Smith MP Member for Perth Shadow Minister for Communications

17/99 Thursday 18th March 1999

You can hold the phone up for all to see, Tim, but some won’t be able to hear it properly

Many will remember Deputy Prime Minister and National Party Leader Tim Fischer holding up the Code Digital Multiple Access (CDMA) portable phone in the run up to the 1998 Election.

Today, he’s at it again, making the first official CDMA phone call at Telstra’s Swan Hill trial venue in regional Victoria.

When he holds up the phone again today, Tim should be reminded of the risks of rushing into new technology without dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”. His haste has created fear in tens of thousands of hearing impaired Australians, whose interests have

been seriously neglected by the Government.

With just eight months to go before the Analogue Mobile Phone System (AMPS) network is shut down, there is a huge question mark over the compatibility of the CDMA mobile phone network with hearing aids and cochlear implants.

There are tens of thousands of mobile phone users who wear a hearing device of some kind. A large proportion of these individuals are unable to use the digital mobile phone network due to unacceptable levels of interference. They rely almost exclusively on the analogue mobile phone network.

On December 31 1999, hearing impaired Australians will lose their only viable mobile phone service. Authorities privately admit that CDMA is likely to cause some interference with hearing devices.

Shadow Minister for Communications, Mr Stephen Smith, said: "This is clearly serious neglect by the Government. In their eagerness to adopt CDMA in the mn up to the last election, they have rushed into it without careful thought for Australia’s hearing impaired.”

“If Tim is so eager to hold up the phone and make the call, maybe he should urgently put his shoulder to the wheel and try to help Australia’s hearing impaired mobile phone users.”

Background notes attached.

Media Contact: Perth - Stephen Smith (08) 9377 3355 Canberra - Patrick Bindon (02) 6277 4108 or 0415 694 878

R1 113 Parliament House ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6277 4108 Fax: 02 6277 8520

FOR BACKGROUND:

Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants: Compatibility with Mobile Phones

Hearing Aid use in Australia

There are over 3 million hearing impaired people in Australia. It is uncertain how many of these individuals use hearing aids but it is safe to assume that as many as 250,000 use some kind of hearing device.

Over 40% of adult Australians currently own or use a mobile phone. This percentage is equally applicable to wearers of hearing aids.

Global Standard for Mobiles (GSM) Digital phones and hearing aids

Wearers of hearing aids and cochlear implants experience interference when using digital mobile phones. Wearers will experience a buzzing sound due to the radio frequency emissions and pulsing effect of GSM transmission.

Wearers of older models hearing aids may even experience interference when a digital phone is in use close by.

Hearing aid wearers have resorted to exclusive use of the Analogue Mobile Phone System (AMPS) network. There is, as yet, no evidence of audible interference to hearing aids caused by analogue mobile phones.

With the closure of the AMPS network at the end of this year, wearers of hearing aids and cochlear implants may conceivably be left without an alternative mobile network. This is a potentially disastrous scenario for the many thousands who rely on mobile phones in their everyday life, in particular business people and small business operators.

Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and hearing aids

The latest technology in mobile phones, the Code Division Multiple Access or CDMA system, is scheduled to be introduced by Telstra in October of this year.

It is unclear at this stage whether it too will cause interference with hearing aids. But as CDMA operates on the same radio frequency as GSM and as it too operates by transmitting a series of pulses it is assumed there will be some interference.

Authorities express hope that the interference will be "less intrusive" than GSM.

R1 113 Parliament House ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6277 4108 Fax: 02 6277 8520

What, if anything, is being done?

In the absence of reassuring advice about the compatibility of CDMA, wearers of hearing aids and cochlear implants are being advised to examine alternative methods of combating interference.

The Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts advises that:

1) new technology in hearing aids, designed to prevent interference with mobile phones, will soon be available in Australia for those who can afford to upgrade their device. Government assistance for the hearing impaired is limited to those under 21 years, veterans, pensioners and individuals with special needs.

2) mobile telephone manufacturers are currently examining options for altering the design of mobile handsets to reduce interference. However, physical limitations such as the size of the handset and the amount of space that can be created between internal circuits and the aerial restricts the effectiveness of this option.

3) hands free accessory kits are or soon will be available for around $200. The kit consists of a length of cable which attaches the mobile phone to an inductive coil ear piece with microphone. It reduces interference by creating distance between the mobile phone and the user's ear.

R1 113 Parliament House ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6277 4108 Fax: 02 6277 8520