What is DECT ?
...an introduction to the history and development of the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications technology, applications and markets
The (nearly) one line answer
Origins of DECT
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.
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.
Maturing of the industry
and the technology
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.
Where are we today ?
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.
The future of DECT ?
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".
Further Introductory Information
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: