Orange has defected from long-term supplier Nokia and chosen arch-rival Ericsson to provide packet-based mobile multimedia services through general packet radio service (GPRS) technology.
The deal, valued at £37m, includes a complete GPRS system, including core network infrastructure and terminal devices such as handsets and PC cards. Services are expected to go live at the end of this year.
Orange's network is currently all Nokia and the first handsets for its Wap launch were supplied by Nokia, but delays in delivering handsets in volume has led to friction between the two companies.
"Ericsson offers the latest technology and it demonstrated an evolution path towards 3G [third generation mobile services]. Terminals were also part of the agreement," said an Orange spokesman.
As well as high-speed internet and email access, GPRS will allow Orange to offer its customers location-based services, which enables them to find the nearest restaurant or cinema. The mobile phone giant will also offer customers transactional services, such as the ability to buy a holiday or order a pizza.
Orange will launch a variety of devices to support these services, including handsets with larger screens, and data cards that plug directly into laptops.
Bob Fuller, Orange chief operating officer, said: "With GPRS, customers will be offered packet-based services in combination with the high-speed circuit-based services that are already available and will further extend the way we communicate and access information."
The service will be complementary to Orange's high-speed circuit switched data infrastructure, which is in corporate trials and will be released within the next few months. An Orange spokesman confirmed that there are delays from Nokia in supplying data card products necessary for this service in bulk.
Nokia will still be supplying upgrades to the existing radio and switching network infrastructure, covering nearly 7000 sites.
John Matthews, principal consultant at analyst Ovum, said it is "mildly unusual for Orange to go to Ericsson, because carriers normally stick with suppliers".
"This is a nice feather in the cap for Ericsson. Nokia will be disappointed," he added.
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