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Today, our smarthphones can provide enormous amount of services: Internet access, both via browsers and embedded applications (e-mail service, social media client and so on), listening to music, taking pictures...and of course, calling each other since it's a mobile phone, eventually.

Assume a world where the classic way of mobile phone communication is on the level of the...let's say, 80's. There are cellphones, but with extremely limited possibilities, making them able only to establish calls.

Is it possible that in such a world, internet and other high-tech services exist on portable devices? If yes, what can cause the constant separation of the two?

I can imagine a solution, in which cellphones are extremely cheap and simple, on the cost of functionality. But I doubt it can prevent portable device engineers to integrate it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note to all answerers: Please use hard-science in your answers. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 19 '16 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 it's not essential, actually. I may remove the tag $\endgroup$ – Katamori Mar 19 '16 at 17:45
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  • Historical regulatory issues. There is one law on telephones, including mobile ones, and another law on digital data transmission. The first feeble attempts on digital data transmission run into legal challenges. Repeat every time there is another attempt. Compare Zündwaren monopoly.
  • As a related issue, concern about mobile phone radiation causes regulators to encourage basic voice and message communication with a minimum of radiation. The radiation may or may not be significantly harmful, there is a genuine reason in the setting for concern. Perhaps the problems with radar techs were published just before mobile phones became viable -- there is no safe minimum dose, so the law says "as low as feasible."
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The best way is to have a society that wants to have them separated. The technological divide between the two domains is so thin that any actual desire will cause one to spread into the other.

Failing that, just make it so that you can only make outgoing calls, not incoming connections.... oh, never mind, ISPs do this already.

Have them work in analog, relying on digital only for the backbone... oh, never mind, phones do this already.

Give them little screens so that you can't possibly watch multimedia... oh, never mind, we still try to watch movies on our phones.

Give them small enough batteries that they couldn't do multimedia for any reasonable period of time without having to be tethered for power... oh never mind, we don't seem to mind that.

As you can see, its remarkably hard.

Going to the social solutions, if one outlawed packet-switched traffic over the air, that would make it pretty difficult to send internet traffic the way we do today. Maybe the government has a mandated wire-tap law on the books that requires all connections to be managed as circuit-switched networks rather than packet-switched networks?

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Imagine Carrier Pigeon IP as an example of what is still possible in the extreme. What makes VOIP possible? You need high speed low latency for reasonable real-time talking.

Given an IP transport of some kind, you can certainly write programs to send voice and (try to) stream video. It's just data. But what if simply doing so was simply not practical in terms of the real-time nature of the data?

In fact, it took time for "the network" to be capable of supporting real-time voice in this manner, first with special infrastructure and eventually simply expected to work OK with a UDP socket. Look at the technical development and specifications during this time. Look at the history of VOIP and use that for ideas. Choose a limiting factor in your packet-switching infrastructure.

Meanwhile, voice only worked for a hundred years. Establishing a circuit can take a bit of time, even an extended time with the operator calling you back when the call is ready. So a different kind of infrastructure is suitable for voice calls, at a much lower level of technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ Holy hell, I can remember that pigeon thing from a class of my "Internet services" course. The combination of digital storing and the use of animals is just a fascinating worldbuilding concept. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Mar 19 '16 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ Yea... with higher technology, you might have ultra dense memory physically carried by bug-bots. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 19 '16 at 1:51
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Just have LCD screens never advance beyond the old-school characters on a screen level and have them expensive. You could also limit touchscreens the same way.

This means that even though phones may be able to get online and even display a bit of information you can't properly browse the web or do any advanced tasks on them. Sending email might just about be possible but that's similar to texts.

CRT monitors work fine around the home and in offices, so the wider internet will be just fine, but they are far too bulky and heavy to work in mobile devices.

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