Lucent Technologies claims to have solved the mobile world's biggest headache - finding the killer application that will make consumers embrace mobile data networks.
However, those hoping to learn of a new mobile ecommerce technology or IP videoconferencing may be disappointed to hear that the killer app, according to Lucent, is voice.
Operators are preparing to make huge investments in next generation mobile networks that promise broadband video and data to mobile handsets.
In the UK, the license fees for third generation UMTS are expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. On top of this, operators will have to build completely new third generation networks.
However, with UMTS not expected to emerge until some time after 2002, operators are looking to interim solutions, including GPRS (General Packet Radio System), to increase the bandwidth of existing GSM networks.
The UK's mobile operators are busy dabbling in GPRS technology, but most are still searching for the application that will justify the huge expense of the technology upgrade.
Lucent says the operators have become too focussed on developing data applications, while the application most likely to succeed in the near term is voice. Lucent is now pushing its PacketGSM products that enable operators to upgrade their networks to GPRS for both data and voice.
"People are currently viewing GPRS as a parallel to GSM. We're saying you need now to migrate GSM to the packet environment," said Arif Hussain, product team leader for PacketGSM at Lucent.
"One of the most significant factors in considering a GPRS roll out is what the end users want to buy. Take out the uncertainty, sell your service that is good today - voice," he said.
At the Telecom 99 show in Geneva later this year, Lucent is planning to demonstrate a voice over GPRS system for the first time. Lucent hopes to start trialing the system in early 2000.
By installing a GPRS network and selling voice services over it, operators can expand the capacity of their networks - because of the higher bandwidth - and can introduce data services gradually, without having to try to realise rapid returns on unproven data services.
"This takes the risk out of selling data services," said Hussain. "It gives operators flexibility in terms of introducing data services that don't have to stand up on their own."
Operators might be concerned that data users would quickly abandon GPRS networks as soon as UMTS becomes available, leaving large amounts of bandwidth unused. However, Lucent expects only the high end users to migrate to premium third generation services.
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