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What is DECT ?
Some answers ... introduction to the history and development of the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications technology, applications and markets

A one line answer...

Origins of DECT

The early days

A maturing industry

DECT today ?

The future ?

More detail...

The (nearly) one line answer
DECT is a digital wireless technology which originated in Europe, but is now being adopted increasingly worldwide, for cordless telephones, wireless offices and even wireless telephone lines to the home.  The younger brother of GSM - Global System for Mobile - it is by contrast a radio access technology, rather than a comprehensive system architecture;  DECT has been designed and specified to interwork with many other types of network, such as the PSTN (conventional telephone networks), ISDN (new digital and data phone networks), GSM (mobile phone networks) and more.

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Origins of DECT
Back in the early 1980's, when analogue cordless phones began to reach European shores from the Far East, the techies quickly cottoned on to the fact that if you did it 'digitally' it could be better - less crackle and interference, more phones within a small space, security against eavesdroping, the ability to move throughout buildings by 'handing over' between 'base stations', and more. 

By late 1987, two erstwhile technologies had emerged aspiring to this role - the UK CT2 standard and the Swedish CT3.  In the true spirit of European compromise it was decided by ETSI - the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, to develop a new standard - DECT - which would take the best of CT2 and CT3 and go far beyond either.   Thus, in January 1988, was DECT born.

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Early standards and products
The late 1980's thus saw extensive research and development amongst the European telecommunications industry, with many companies participating in the development of the DECT standards.  The initial standards focused upon developing the air interface - the radio link - between the cordless telephone and its base station, which plugged into the telephone socket, as well as the standards and protocols to support handover between several basestations all connected to the same office switchboard (PABX) or public telecommunication switch.

The first ETSI DECT standards were produced in 1992 - ETS 300 175 and 300 176.    The very first product was from Olivetti, also in 1992, and was a wireless LAN type product, known as NET3, which was bundled as a small part of a total IT-solution offered to Olivetti's industrial customers, where it was warmly received.  Despite this, in due course Olivetti decided to cease production of this product.

The NET3 product was closely followed, in December 1992, by the first domestic cordless telephone product to the DECT standard, the original Siemens Gigaset 900 telephone.   In contrast to the fate of NET3, the Gigaset range of products evolved to become the industry leader, with Siemens having sold over 10 million Gigasets by end 1997.

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Maturing of the industry and the technology
The early years of the 1990's in Europe have seen the explosive growth of the digital mobile phone industry, based on the GSM - the Global System for Mobile - standard, also developed by ETSI.  Many of the people and organisations involved in GSM were also involved in DECT and the two standards were developed with strong common bonds.  As the sales of GSM handsets soared, and as DECT products began to come to market, so the technology costs have fallen drastically and the wide range of application markets for DECT have begun to materialise and indeed, in some cases, mature.

The initial market success for DECT was found in Germany, where DECT domestic cordless telephone products found themselves competing on price against products designed to the analogue CEPT standard and winning.  Today DECT products are taking over 60% of this market.  As technology costs and product prices fell and as production volumes ramped up so DECT domestic phones began to be marketed and to find market success in other European countries.  As well as the mainstream telecomms manufacturers, second and third tier manufacturers from the Far East have now entered the market, as may be seen from the domestic phones page of this site.

The second early market success for DECT was in the wireless PABX application.  A typical office, factory or warehouse has many telephones distributed throughout the premises all connected by wires back to the on-premises switchboard, the PABX.  The DECT wireless PABX provides an alternative that offers much greater flexibility - a small number of radio basestations are wired back to the PABX instead and cordless handsets communicate, by radio, to these basestations. 

An incoming call for a given handset is automatically routed to the correct handset, wherever on the premises it may be at the time.  As the user moves around the site, from the radio coverage are of one basestation to that of another, so the call is handed over without any noticeable break in the conversation. 

Such DECT WPABX products have found real success in a number of key sectors - notably warehouses, hospitals and factories, where the ability to immediately contact the right person wherever he may be can improve customer service, save lives (and stress) and reduce production-line downtime.  Convention centres were also swift to recognise the benefits of DECT WPABX to provide a large number of phones, flexibly distributed on-demand at short notice.  In the general office environment DECT cordless phones are being sold as a part of complete PABX systems, to support a minority of extensions.  Application examples of DECT wireless PABX's can be found on our Case Studies page and examples of products on our Business Systems page.


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Where are we today ?
In the mid-1990's, as DECT technology was maturing and costs falling, so it became clear that one of the 'evolutionary applications' originally envisaged for DECT was beginning to become economically feasible - namely replacing copper wire as a means to provide a basic telephone line to the home.  Wireless was becoming cost-comparable with wire.  Given the huge latent demand for telephones in the developing world, together with the liberalisation of telecommunications service provision in the developed world, so all the major telecommunications maunfacturers began to develop products for wireless local loop. 

A DECT 'profile' for wireless local loop, WLL, or radio local loop, RLL, as it is also known, was developed by ETSI to harmonise approaches to this application - the RAP, Radio local loop Access Profile - essentially indicating how to use the existing DECT standards to implement a product for this market.  A range of WLL products from the major European vendors are today available, as listed on the wireless local loop page of this site.

Many DECT WLL trials were undertaken in countries all around the world in the mid-1990's.  The year of breakthrough seems to have been 1997 - by the end of 1997 some 2 million wireless telephone lines using DECT technology had been ordered.  The economic downturn in the far east in 1998 hit this market, but in 1999 signs of an upturn were evident.  Even so, one third of all wireless local loop lines ordered globally during 1998/99 used DECT technology, making DECT the leading technology used for wireless local loop across the world.

Many other 'profiles' were also developed by ETSI, to allow DECT to interwork with ISDN, to interwork with GSM networks, to allow dual mode DECT/GSM phones to be built etc.   A range of profiles to allow the efficient transport of data over DECT were also developed and, during 1999 these data standards were consolidated into the DECT Packet Radio service, DPRS, and the DECT Multimedia Access Profile, DMAP (essentially a combination of the DPRS and GAP profiles).     At the start of the 3rd millennium data products are now beginning to arrive on the market, such as DECT data & ISDN modems, ISDN based business systems, Multimedia & Home Networking prducts etc

At the start of 1998 another application of DECT was launched commercially in Italy - CTM, Cordless Terminal Mobility.     Branded "FIDO" in Italy, CTM is a public access service, based on DECT, whereby your cordless handset, as well as operating as a cordless phone at home, can also be used in city centres to access public DECT basestations.  If someone calls your home telephone and no-one answers the call is automatically re-routed to the public network and still reaches you, providing you are in range of one one of the basestations - if not, it goes to your voice mailbox in the network.  CTM also allows you make a call in the public areas, as well as supporting an intercom capability between your public cordless phone and your home wired telephone.  Unfortunately regulatory changes in Italy have stifled the commercial development of this service.  Regarding CTM, the technology has been proven, it remains to be seen whether CTM will be deployed elsewhere and become a commercial success.

In 1999 in the UK dual mode DECT/GSM service was launched - OnePhone from BT Cellnet.  Other countries have also indicated an intention to launch such services.  However, as of 2002, they don not appear to have taken off.

At the start of 2002, the hot prospects for DECT over the coming year look to be data applications.  The advent of Bluetooth has stimulated awareness and is creating a market for short range wireless data applications.   Bluetooth is at last getting there, but some DECT manufacturers are already offering a $10 BoM, at present less than Bluetooth.  DECT data could still prove to be a significant market.

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The future of DECT ?
Where is DECT going from here ?  The answer is certainly to larger markets, lower costs and new applications.  As we've outlined above, whilst the domestic digital cordless phone market is maturing in Europe, it is only just beginning in other parts of the world.    Business PABX systems likewise will proliferate in the years ahead.  The breakthrough of DECT into the wireless local loop market has now happened - the availability of indigenous DECT technology in countries like India and China, and the presence of local industry fora, will ensure that DECT is not seen simply as a Western solution being forced on developing countries.  The advent of the Internet / WWW is beginning to open the door to the vast potential DECT holds for data/multimedia applications, in both developed and developing economies. 

As DECT becomes a true commodity technology, so in the future we may find cheap DECT modules incorporated in many of today's building control and security systems, providing intelligent systems that allow automatic control and alerting, augmenting and replacing today's customised telemetry and wired systems and proliferating into similar applications in the home, such as automatic security alerting in the event of unexpected entry, fire or flood, remote telephone control of appliances, return channels for interactive television, and many more.  Truly the future lies in one of the well known descriptions of DECT - "a versatile technology".

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Further Introductory Information
An excellent, more detailed, introductory overview of DECT compiled by Heinz Ochsner, secretary of the DECT Forum, is available from the Forum's website.
This comprehensive document, may be downloaded from their website in Adobe Acrobat 3.0 format. 

The ETSI website also contains a good introductory article by Peter Olanders, who was also heavily involved in developing the ETSI standards.   The article is a little dated now, but still contains some good material.

Website "DECT summaries" in other languages include


For those who prefer a hard copy to refer to, ie the printed media, DECT is covered from the applications, technology, standards and commercial angles in the recent book 'Cordless Telecommunications Worldwide', edited by Walter Tuttlebee, which includes chapters by Ochsner, Olanders and many other key industry pioneers and well-known DECT conference speakers.

Other pages of the introductory area of  DECTweb provide specific details on the following issues:

Regulatory Issues

Technical Standards

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