Orange today dismissed hype surrounding next generation 'data only' wireless networks, as it launched its own alternative mobile data service that runs on top of its existing voice network.
The UK mobile operator dismissed claims from vendors and rival operators that General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), which is a way of making fast data transfers to mobile phones, will be available from the middle of next year. Orange says that the handsets won't even come to market until 2001. Motorola however, claims its GPRS handsets will be available next summer.
"Suggestions that GPRS will appear in the middle of next year, offering speeds of 100Kbps are wildly optimistic to say the least. Orange believes customers deserve better information," the company said in a statement issued today.
Orange is interested in GPRS, but has launched its own circuit switched high speed data alternative - high speed circuit switched data (HSCSD) - which increases mobile data rates from 9.6Kbps to 28.8Kbps.
"You can see HSCSD on Orange today. In the first quarter of next year we will see volume shipments - it's here and now. GPRS, which has its merits, is at least 12 months away. We're in an industry where there is a lot of hype around GPRS," said Stuart Scott, manager of Internet products at Orange.
Orange's first HSCSD device is a GSM PC card, manufactured by Nokia, which provides wireless data rates of up to 28.8Kbps. The card, expected to be widely available early next year, will cost between £200 and £300.
Analysts believe Orange's service will be rapidly replaced by packet based GPRS and market analysts at Dataquest forecast that by 2003, 90 per cent of mobile operators in Western Europe will use packet based, rather than circuit switched networks for mobile data services.
Questions have also been raised about the extra demand HSCSD users will put on Orange's voice network and the speed of roll out of devices. Orange has increased capacity around business parks and dense urban areas to cope with the increased data and voice traffic.
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