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BT starts Internet phones war.

Byline: Steve Pain Technology Editor

BT Cellnet plans to launch the next generation of faster mobile Internet phones for British customers this summer - around the same time as rival company Vodafone.

The GPRS phones will provide permanent links to the net at similar speeds to home computers.

The hard pressed industry hopes GPRS (General Packet Radio Switching) will overcome disappointment with current WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) handsets.

Stuart Newstead, general manager for Cellnet's wireless data services, said it will extend its GPRS service from businesses to consumers once the choice of handsets widens.

'The information that we are getting from the handset manufacturers is that it will be mid to end of summer,' he added.

Cellnet already has a few hundred business customers using GPRS services via laptop computers.

Vodafone recently confirmed that it is on course to launch a full commercial service using the latest GPRS fast mobile telephony by the second quarter - although it still does not yet have enough handsets.

The company expects to offer GPRS to UK consumers in the summer, after launching to the corporate market on April 2. It expects to have handsets from at least six manufacturers by then.

GPRS is intended to provide a stepping stone to even faster third generation (3G) services that will be rolled-out globally starting this May in Japan.

But some in the industry believe GPRS will offer all the bandwidth consumers will need, and that operators need not have invested billions of pounds in 3G licences.

GPRS is a packet-based wireless communication service that promises data rates from 56 up to 114 Kbps and continuous connection to the Internet for mobile phone and computer users.

The higher data rates will allow users to take part in video conferences and interact with multimedia web sites and similar applications using mobile handheld devices as well as notebook computers.

In theory, GPRS packet-based service should cost users less than slower circuit-switched services, since communication channels are being used on a shared-use, as-packets-are-needed basis, rather than dedicated only to one user at a time.

It should also be easier to make applications available to mobile users because the faster data rate means that middleware currently needed to adapt applications to the slower speed of wireless systems will no longer be needed.

Once GPRS becomes available, mobile users of a virtual private network (VPN) will be able to access the private network continuously rather than through a dial-up connection. GPRS will also complement Bluetooth, a standard for replacing wired connections between devices with wireless radio connections. In addition to the Internet Protocol (IP), GPRS also supports X.25, a packet-based protocol that is used mainly in Europe.

Orange, the UK's third largest mobile operator after Vodafone and Cellnet, has yet to give a clear date for the launch of GPRS, saying only that it will be 'from' the second quarter. Fourth-placed One 2 One is currently trialing business services.

European mobile Internet revenues are seen rising more than six-fold to pounds 48.4 billion by 2005 - provided high-speed cellphones and services hit the market in time.

Meanwhile, mobile phone maker Ericsson, has joined the long list of technology companies issuing profits warnings in another sign that the once flourishing mobile telephony sector is in serious trouble and may take several quarters to recover.

Ericsson - which is is outsourcing all its mobile phone manufacturing due to big losses - said that first-quarter sales were being hit by low replacement demand for mobile phones, reduced operator subsidies, high inventory levels in the distribution channel and continued price pressure.

Motorola has announced that it will be adopting magic4's advanced gte software, which will allow a range of totally new interactive services on current generation handsets using simple SMS technology.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 20, 2001
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