David Robson

David Robson, chairman, Burnside Telecom

Under the spotlight this month is David Robson, chairman, Burnside Telecom. Burnside designs and manufactures a range of fixed cellular wireless terminals, telephones and modems in the UK.

MB: Why do the mobile devices available today fail to serve the needs of older mobile phone users, in your opinion?

DR: The problem is as soon as you reduce the size of a phone to make it portable, you have to start making design compromises that make it less easy to use.

As you get older your senses deteriorate. Your ability to see, hear, feel and understand things get worse. According to RNIB there are two million people in the UK who are visually impaired, and icon menus are much harder to recognise than text.

And your hearing; where’s the dial tone? An older person can’t hear one on an iPhone, and you have to get to page 24 in the User’s Guide before it tells you how to make a phone call. Why does an older person need to read the manual to learn how to make a phone call? Because mobile phones are so compact and slippery it’s really uncomfortable to use them and hard to find them. Many end up down the back of the sofa or even worse, get dropped down the loo.

The problem is that for older people the mobile phones are no longer a telephone that they can use.

MB: What is required in mobile phones for the older generations?

DR: Despite the incredible growth of mobile phones, there are still more landline telephones than mobiles. Consequently, for most older people, the stereotype of a telephone is a device you just pick and dial a number to make a call.

The immediate presence of a dial tone tells them that all is well and that a phone call can be made. The buttons are large enough to be seen by someone with visual impairment and operated by some one with arthritis. The handset is moulded to feel comfortable against the ear. Some telephone handsets have an inductive coil in the earpiece that links with a similar T-switch coil in their hearing aid so they can hear clearly. The telephone has a powerful amplifier, speaker and excellent echo cancellation.


So handsfree mode is very popular with older people. Repeated scare stories in the press concerning possible damage to health caused by radiation from a mobile phones aerial continues to give concern to older people. So a mobile phone with an aerial that if located some distance from the user gives additional reassurance.

The telephone is heavy enough not to move around or be knocked off the table top as its being used. If the telephone rings anyone can find it. So it can be answered and used by any one. It’s a shared resource available to anyone in the vicinity.

Callers can make a call knowing that if someone is there, they will answer it. Telephones are for places and mobile phones are for the person.

Burnside makes fixed cellular terminals that allow the users to use their telephone, telephone system or computer to make voice calls, send SMS text messages and access the internet over the GSM wireless network. Why is this an important innovation in communications?

DR: Burnside fixed cellular terminals enable legacy telephone equipment, that had previously been dependant upon landlines, to communicate over mobile networks and to liberate them from the pay rental.

A Burnside Easy Answer phone combines the ease of use of a big button desktop landline telephone, with ‘use it anywhere’ flexibility, and the affordability of a mobile phone.

If for any reason the owner cannot get to phone when it rings, the phone can automatically open its speaker and microphone so that the caller can speak to the owner.

The Easy Answer feature is enabled to VIP callers by simply storing their numbers in the phone. It is for this reason that the RNIB and other organisations concerned with people’s disabilities now offer this phone.

In summary Burnside’s range of fixed cellular terminals and telephones offer a unique range of features to both landline and mobile network users not available on products from other manufacturers.

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