Cellular phone service is going indoors. All of the big phone-gear makers, from Sweden's L.M. Ericsson to France's Alcatel, are working on wireless phone systems for use in buildings. But that means overcoming both the disadvantages of ordinary cordless phones, which work only near their base stations, and the drawbacks of conventional cellular, which has high per-minute rates and doesn't work well indoors.
Canada's Northern Telecom Ltd. is stepping up the competition with a system called Companion. Set for unveiling on Nov. 20, Companion is an in-building wireless system that hands off calls from one antenna to another, just like cellular, so people can walk while they talk. Companion uses a radio standard that has been approved by 22 countries in Europe and Asia. Northern will start selling Companion in Hong Kong and other Asian markets immediately, with plans to roll it out in Europe and Canada next year. The system probably won't be available in the U.S. until a radio standard is settled on.