Users of Internet-enabled mobile phones are complaining of expensive bills and slow response times, just weeks after the phones were launched in the UK.
Tim Sheedy, an analyst at researcher IDC, said wireless application protocol (Wap) customers he has spoken with are experiencing "bill shock" because of the extra time spent using Net services on Wap-enabled phones.
Wap gives users access to text-based Net services such as business directories, news and travel information. Orange, Vodafone and BT Cellnet are all rolling out Wap, but a shortage of handsets has so far restricted sales.
Sheedy said the time taken for Wap phones to connect to the information server can add expensive seconds to a user's call time. "This initial handshaking process is too slow and can take up to 15 seconds, which is precious time that customers pay for," he said.
"The amount of information that customers can get is restricted by time-consuming scrolling lists," he added. "Customers using Wap services can add an extra 10 minutes to their time, which most can't afford. They are left with a bill shock."
A Vodafone spokeswoman said she was unaware of Wap customers facing higher bills. "Customers know how long their call is," she said. "Their calls are priced the same as regular tariffs, and a call at off-peak and at the rate of a local call is not terribly expensive.
"It is still early days and things will speed up with GPRS [general packet radio service]. I don't think Wap is particularly slow. It isn't a PC and it will have limitations, but sites are relatively quick and easy to download."
The GPRS high-speed system will make data transfer to mobile phones faster because it will offer a so-called always-on service. This will eliminate the need for users to dial up the server. However, analysts do not expect GPRS to be widely available until 2001, despite claims from BT Cellnet that its GPRS service will be ready this summer.
"GPRS, when it is available, will make dramatic changes," said Sheedy. "It will make transfer faster and customers only pay for information that they get. With the Internet it is less important if you have errors, but with mobiles it can be very expensive."
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