Manx Telecom on Tuesday switched on Europe's first commercial super-3G service, delivering 1.3 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) to mobile users on the Isle of Man via a data card.
The service, run by Manx Telecom — a subsidiary of soon-to-be-acquired telecoms giant O2 — follows months of trials on the island, which was chosen because it is a demographic microcosm of the British Isles, according to Tom Meageen, business development manager for Manx Telecom.
A regular 3G service was trialled on the island a few years ago before being launched on the mainland UK for the same reasons, though never rolled out as a full service on the Isle of Man itself.
"It is a small controlled environment ideal for trying out new technologies," said Meageen. "We have about 7,000 customers with a large cross-section of business travellers and finance customers. This lets us try out top-end business applications."
Meageen said that this time the service will stay. A voice service is likely to follow the current service, which is data-only using an AirCard 850 wireless network card.
The card retails for £49 on a contract that costs £39.95 a month for 100Mb of data transfer. Above that limit, each extra megabyte will cost 60p. Under Manx Telecom's introductory deal, people on the island can get the first three months free.
Because super-3G is so new, roaming charges — exposed in an investigation by ZDNet UK this week — will not apply to that particular service for now. But the card will work with regular 3G and GPRS services, so O2's roaming charges outside the British Isles will apply.
The service will be watched keenly by those inside and outside O2, as it is pegged to be rolled out across the UK next year. At that point, higher speeds should also be possible as the market for the data cards develops. "The limitation is not the network, it is the devices," said Meegan. "By mid-2006 we should see 3Mbps devices."
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Many in the industry believe that the name for the service could also benefit from some development. While Super 3G is more user friendly than the very formal — and technical — HSDPA, it may still not be enough. "Although people recognise 3G, it is a very poor name for a service," said Meageen. "Something like Mobile Broadband sounds much better."
Whatever name is adopted for the service, a number of technology demonstrations are likely to emanate from the Isle of Man over the coming year. Meageen said that Manx Telecom has been talking to Apple with a view to kitting out some schools on the island with super-3G devices.