Nine-hundred eighteen? I looked up from the newspaper at my wife, and learned that I'd heard right: According to our bill, our teenage daughter, Julie, had sent 918 text messages on her cell phone last month.
"We pay for the first 200," my wife told me, referring to our regular monthly charge. But each message after that costs something like 10 cents apiece.
Somehow, it didn't seem possible she would be sending so many little cryptic messages, such as "talk 2 u l8r!" on a phone's alphanumeric keypad. It seemed easier to just use a voice message.
Another daughter, Katy, filled us in: "They do it during class."
Ah, that made sense. Sending a message during class on a phone is safer than having a teacher intercept a written note along the way, then read it out loud.
I started wondering what else we'd be using our cell phones for in the future, besides sending secret messages.
More content, more services
If you think sending text messages, accessing simple Web pages or getting photos or even choppy video over your phone is fun, just wait.
Third-generation - or 3G - phones will pack Wi-Fi-like Internet power into the palm of your hand, said Gary Minden, a Kansas University professor of electrical engineering.
Minden has been keeping tabs on the cellular phone industry as part of his research in information technology at KU.
"We're going to see quite a bit more of what your phones can deliver to you, in terms of information resources," Minden said.
First-generation mobile phones were analog devices that often produced sound with static, he said. Second-generation phones moved to digital transmission, offering the opportunity to not only talk, but also send and receive data into your phone.
These days, second-generation phones give you some choppy-looking video, some simple Web pages, ringtones, music, e-mail and text messages.
"And, if you have any kids, you know they use this extensively," Minden said, laughing.
Transmission speeds of second-generation phones remain limited, he said, but 3G phones are coming along as carriers build up their higher-speed 3G networks.
How fast will they be? Data rates for a 3G phone will be comparable to what's available for a laptop at an Internet Wi-Fi hot spot, Minden predicted.
"Carriers will be looking for how to deliver more content and more services over a mobile network," he said. "In the future, we'll start seeing video delivered over cellular networks."
That's right, mobile TV.
Can't watch your favorite sports events because you're stuck at a cousin's wedding? No problem.
Minden predicts you might be able to subscribe to a service that would let you secretly watch video highlights on your phone as bridesmaids walk down the aisle.
"All day Saturday you would get video clips of the great plays happening in all the Big 12 games," Minden said. "You could see those shortly after they happened and see the highlights almost in real time."
He also talked about taking high-resolution photos over a phone. Or getting crystal-clear, digital quality music.
It almost seemed like one of those sci-fi secret agent gadgets that Q would have developed for James Bond.
Speaking of James Bond, there is a 3G phone in the works that 007 will use in his next flick. And it's actually a real phone, being marketed by Sony-Ericsson.
Not missing a marketing trick, the company is making it available as part of the promotion for "Casino Royale," which hits the big screens Nov. 17.
The Limited Edition James Bond phones, special silver versions of the K800 and K790 Cyber-shot camera phones, have some interesting specs.
Here's the buzz: The mobile phone will have "a 3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus, Xenon flash for lowlight conditions and BestPic, which allows the user to take nine pictures of a moving object simultaneously and choose to keep the best shot.
"The phones also offer Picture Blogging for uploading photos to a personal online blogsite & PictBridge for printing direct to a printer without the need for a PC or laptop.
"High speed 3G data transfer then allows users to share images so they can share them with friends, colleagues, or even MI6."
And there's some video - it comes with a movie trailer, as well as wallpaper and ringtones.
By the numbers
According to 3G Today, there currently are eight 3G wireless service providers in the U.S.: Verizon Wireless (since 2003); Alaska Communications System (2004); amp'd mobile, Sprint-Nextel, Midwest Wireless and Alltel (2005); and Helio and Mobile ESPN (2006).
There also are 213 devices considered to be in the 3G realm, including mobile-camera and video phones, PDA-type phones and wireless cards that allow for Internet connectivity to laptops.
Some of the features on the phones include cameras that offer from 1 to 3 megapixels of resolution, music, video and GPS.
The new services, when fully implemented, will have extra charges, Minden said. It's those extra charges and extra services that will allow the carriers to continue to build the 3G networks - and make a little profit, too.
Back in my living room, the talk turned to the future of phone service - and how we would pay for it.
My wife said she already had told Julie to prepare for paying for any extra text-messaging fees she'd be racking up in the coming months.
I admitted the geek in me wouldn't mind watching some video if I was stuck at a long light in traffic. But my wife and Katy said they probably wouldn't want to pay extra for mobile TV on a phone.
"All I want to do is talk on mine," my wife said.
I gave Julie a call at her dorm to talk to her about her phone bill.
And I told her a little bit about the 3G Bond phone.
"If I had a phone like that, I would probably use all the features on it," she said. "It's not a need. It's more of a want-"
As she spoke, I could almost see it:
Julie secretly rolling up in an Aston Martin, unobtrusively snapping a couple of high-resolution digital photos on her 3G phone of a secret spy meeting at an outdoor cafe, then shooting them back in seconds to MI6 with some secret cryptic messages, like 'call u l8r'. . .
"I'm at a point now where I'm fine with the phone I have," Julie continued. "But it would be cool to update. If I had a phone with a pretty decent video camera on it and I happened to be walking down the street and I . . ."
Hmm. I wonder how much 918 video charges would cost?
- World Online tech columnist and multimedia reporter Dave Toplikar can be reached at 832-7151.