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The BBC's Brian Milligan
"Heavy users could find it cheaper"
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Stewart Newstead, BT Cellnet's wireless data service
"We have tried to keep [our pricing] simple for all our customers."
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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 07:20 GMT 08:20 UK
BT launches GPRS phones

By BBC e-commerce reporter John Moylan.

BT Cellnet has launched a new breed of mobile phones in the UK: handsets that use General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technology.

GPRS will be revolutionary in that it will allow customers to experience fast and "always-on" access to the internet.

The new handsets are seen as a staging post between today's digital mobile phones and the much hyped third-generation (3G) networks due to be launched in a couple of years' time.

If the telecoms companies are to be believed, GPRS is about to change forever how we use our mobile phones.

The beauty of GPRS

In the telecoms world, talk is cheap. So companies believe the path to higher revenues per subscriber is via handsets which allow us both to chat and access data on the move.

We have been here before. Wap phones launched last year promised internet access.

But users found the technology slow to use - an issue as mobile operators charged by the minute. Those with the patience to wait complained of the uninspiring Wap content.

GPRS is different. The technology means you are always connected to the internet and there's no more waiting around.

Here to stay

More importantly, you only get charged when you send or receive information. That means two bills: one for talking and one for accessing data. This is a new charging regime that we'll all have to get used to in the years ahead.

For GPRS is here to stay. It's on phones today, but soon the technology will be commonplace on a range of handheld devices.

It will mean salesmen on the move can be constantly aware of stock levels back at base.

Market watchers could have instant access to share prices. Sports fans could keep across the day's football scores - all this in a second, literally at the touch of a button.

BT's launch

"With GPRS, the mobile internet has become faster, cheaper and more accessible," said Stuart Newstead, BT Cellnet's general manager, wireless data.

There's no question the new service beats Wap hands down. The lack of waiting time comes as a huge relief.

According to BT Cellnet this is the key factor which changed how people used the product in trials. They were happy to use it more often knowing a response would be instantaneous.

But the biggest drawback for many users initially will be the handset. The first to go on sale is the Motorola Timeport. At 200 it's not cheap - don't expect the mobile phone operators to subsidise these handsets.

More importantly the screen size is tiny, making any degree of browsing a challenge for all but the eagle eyed.

Some will see this new development as just a starter to the ultimate main course: 3G. But with so much speculation about the timescales and capability of that technology, GPRS has two obvious advantages. It's here and it works.

Orange and Vodafone are also on the verge of launching GPRS.

Orange will kick off a commercial service at the end of the summer, while Vodafone is set to make an announcement in the next few weeks.

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See also:

18 May 01 | Business
Q&A: GPRS phones
17 Apr 01 | Business
Vodafone passes 3G 'milestone'
22 Mar 01 | Business
Orange sets date for mobile upgrade
27 Nov 00 | Business
A bluffers guide to m-commerce
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