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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Q&A: GPRS phones

BT Cellnet has become the UK's first mobile phone operator to offer GPRS phones - which are intended to offer much faster and better mobile internet services.

BBC News Online explains what is on offer, how much the phones cost and whether you should buy one.

What are GPRS phones?

They are a step up in terms of technology from any mobile phones UK users have had until now.

As well as the basic voice capability, the phones will offer a range of high-speed e-mail and mobile internet services.

GPRS, which stands for general packet radio service, is also known as 2.5G.

This is because it is seen as being half-way between the second-generation (2G) phones UK users have today and the coming third-generation (3G) technology.

It is 3G that has caused the telecoms operators to build up such big debts, with the requirement to buy new licences and build new networks.

How is GPRS different from Wap?

GPRS refers to the way data is downloaded while Wap is the browser technology that allows users to view downloaded information.

The key difference between GPRS phones and the Wap phones that have been available until now is that GPRS provides an "always-on" connection to the internet, so users won't have to sign on to check if they've received e-mail or dial up to view internet pages.

Time spent attempting, and sometimes failing, to connect to the internet has been a major complaint of those using the Wap (wireless application protocol) phones that have been available until now.

Essentially, GPRS users will be able to download the same data faster than standard Wap phone users.

But the data will still look the same when it arrives on the screen - GPRS phones have Wap browsers, with all the limitations that entails.

Operators say GPRS phones will download data about three times faster than standard Wap phones.

Time spent reading or replying to e-mails is free - users only pay for information sent or received.

How much will it cost?

The biggest expense initially will be the handset.

BT Cellnet - the only UK operator currently offering GPRS - has secured supplies of the Timeport T-260, a phone built by US manufacturer Motorola.

At present, if you want GPRS, you'll have to buy this phone. And it will cost 199.

Once users have a new phone, they'll have to get used to having two sections to their bill - with charges split between seconds of call time for voice communications and bytes of data for e-mail and internet services.
Cellnet's GPRS phone - a Motorola Timeport T-260
The UK's first "always-on" net access phone

Cellnet users will be charged 7.99 a month for data on top of their bill for voice.

The company says this package will suit the "vast, vast majority" of customers but users should be aware that if they download more than one megabyte of data in the month they will have to pay 3.99 for each additional megabyte.

Very light users will be able to opt for a package costing 3.99 a month plus two pence for each kilobyte of data downloaded.

One kilobyte equates to about one Wap page of data.

A 100-word e-mail is about 2.5 kilobytes of data.

Where can I get a GPRS phone?

Cellnet says its GPRS phones will be on sale at 200 High Street locations, including Carphone Warehouse, The Link and its own stores.

Cellnet and Carphone Warehouse are also selling the GPRS phone via their websites.

Why should I buy one now and not wait for 3G?

If you're a regular mobile internet user, you're probably fed up with Wap's inadequacies by now.

But you might have some time to wait before 3G phones arrive - probably at least two years in the UK.

With its speed, GPRS should be superior to traditional Wap phones. It's here now and it seems to work whereas 3G, involving the construction of entire new networks, is likely to have substantial teething problems.

On the other hand, potential users might want to wait a few months until a wider range of handsets or other GPRS-enabled devices with more sophisticated applications become available.

The UK's other operators are also preparing for GPRS launches in coming months.

Obviously, if you're not interested in mobile internet services or e-mail on the go, you're better off sticking with a voice-only phone.

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18 May 01 | Business
BT launches GPRS phones
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