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It may sound like a demented Tomorrow's World feature, but France Telecom (and Amphicom) have invented the world's first underwater telephone.

The French telco research department assures ease of use and a clear connection from any landline or mobile phone to someone at any depth of water. Seriously.

So, what you want to know is: How on earth does it work? Well, the phone is at the end of a long wire attached to a buoy on the surface of the water. The buoy contains a GSM unit and picks up the signals which it then relays down the wire to the phone.

The phone has a dial pad, a light and a buzzer, but - you may have guessed this - a special mouthpiece. We're still unsure the practicalities of doing this (France Telecom will hopefully get back to us with full details) but the person underwater bites down on the mouthpiece and presses a button which connects the call.

The sound vibrations reverberate in the skull and heads towards the ear, where, we are assured, the diver can hear the conversation perfectly well. Also - and this is where we are stumped, the diver can also talk back - although only in a CB radio type way.

And - get this - the diver can also call any number he fancies by tapping the keypad. So if you're married to a deep-sea diver, you need never worry about what time he'll be home from work again. Sadly, we don't have call rates yet.

Aside from having a chat with your local mermaid, what the hell does France Telecom think is the use of this phone? Well, it's very useful in fact. It's been tested with archeologists at the Alexandrine Research Center, Egypt, who are excavating the watery grave of the legendary Alexandria lighthouse.

With phone in hand, research can be sped up, preventing divers from having to go up and down all the time with important information. It also means that divers can relay information they come across immediately, rather than relying on their memory(directional problems are apparently frequent - which makes sense if you think about it). Then of course, a diver could warn of any danger or problem.

France Telecom reckons there is a big market here for all underwater work such as oil platforms, shipyards, scientific research, salvaging ships and civil security(?). It will be available for purchase by the end of next year, and the company is already looking at a wireless version using ultrasound waves or weak electrical currents.

Now ain't that brilliant? ®

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