The mobile phone industry must win the support of the software industry before it can successfully deploy advanced mobile data and voice services, according to equipment vendor Ericsson.
In London today, Ericsson launched an initiative designed to encourage software developers to develop systems based on General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), a system for running multimedia services over existing mobile services.
The GPRS Applications Alliance provides test facilities in Silicon Valley in the US and Sweden for software developers to trial new mobile applications. The Alliance also offers marketing advice, industry information and technical training. So far Ericsson is the only member, although the company says it is open to all interested parties.
Most mobile operators in Europe are experimenting with GPRS and the first commercial services are expected to launch next year. But the success of these networks depends heavily on the type of applications rolled out.
"For this to be a success, users have to get applications that make sense," said Patrik Svenson, manager of the Alliance.
"It won't be one killer application, but hundreds or thousands of killer applications for businesses and consumers," said Svenson. "The initial killer application is whatever you use in business today, you will be able to do on the street."
BT and BT Cellnet are also putting a lot of effort into building GPRS applications, according to Peter Richardson, director of corporate mobile solutions at BT. BT is planning GPRS services for early 2000.
"Some we're building in-house and some are by third parties. We've established facilities for third parties to develop applications," said Richardson.
"Any service has to combine customer demand, network capabilities and terminals - and a set of applications that customers will find attractive," he added. "There's a bit of virgin ground in the area of mobile data."
Possible GPRS applications include wireless access to Internet based services, such as banking, shopping and gaming, and IP voice. GPRS also has opportunities for connecting non human locations - via telemetry - such as vending machines and weather stations.
The success of GPRS services will be closely watched by operators considering investing billions of pounds into a license and brand new network for third generation mobile services - which will offer even more bandwidth for mobile users.
Third generation UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecoms Systems) licenses are due to be auctioned in the UK next year, with commercial services appearing within three years.
"In a way GPRS is a stepping stone, if it doesn't take off, 3G will not," said Svenson. However, he said he is confident that there is a ready and waiting audience for GPRS services and that the technology should actually make mobile telephony cheaper.
"There are a number of countries where the user base is ready for these applications. In the younger generation, we've seen SMS (short messaging service) take off enormously in the last couple of years," he said.
The Alliance expects that of the forecasted 250 million GSM subscribers in two years, 10 per cent to 20 per cent will be using GPRS.
"Personally I believe it will be quicker because of the rate of growth of PDAs, laptops and other personal computing devices," Svenson added.
Ericsson's Alliance is billed as an industry wide initiative, but in reality it appears more an opportunity to woo software developers and operators into using Ericsson's GPRS kit.
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