Orange beats rivals to high-speed mobile data

Proprietary technology gives mobile company a year's lead over Vodafone, One to One, BT Cellnet.

Mobile telecommunications giant Orange is attempting to steal a lead from its rivals in the race to provide high speed mobile data transfer services by filling the gap between current GSM technology and the much-hyped GPRS.

Orange, which unveiled its WAP (wireless application protocol) services Thursday, has been busy upgrading its GSM network to use the interim HSCSD (high-speed circuit switched data), what it calls 2.5-generation technology. HSCSD will provide data transfer rates of 28.8kbit/s over the Orange network, while its competitors remain stuck with GSM's measly 9.6kbit/s until General Packet Radio System (GPRS) arrives. GPRS is expected by spring offering a maximum171.2kbit/s, according to BT.

Orange HSCSD service will launch in October. Experts agree this will precede the first commercial GPRS services by about a year, giving Orange plenty of time to relish its lead.

HSCSD works by grabbing two data channels and compressing them, using proprietary technology developed by Orange and Strathclyde University. It uses circuit switching rather than GPRS' packet-switching technology, which is particularly suited for next generation mobile technologies such as video streaming. Dave Cherrill, manager of network products at Orange explained: "For applications such as video you really need a continuous stream. GPRS gives a much more jerky picture."

Despite Orange's enthusiasm for HSCSD, it confirmed its commitment to developing its GPRS services but, unlike its competitors, believes HSCSD will co-exist alongside GPRS.

Cherril suggests a main reason why HSCSD appears a relative unknown compared to GPRS "is because Vodafone, One to One and Cellnet don't have the network capacity to roll out a high-speed network, which is really down to historical factors. They were originally given less of the spectrum, and went with an earlier version of GSM."

As soon as Orange turns the network on, Orange subscribers will be able to access the high speed service via variety of wireless data and fax cards. This will allow customers to browse the Web or send large attachments over the network. Finnish mobile firm Nokia has produced the first such card, the High-Speed Data Card, which will retail for about £300.

Part 2: What the competition is doing.

Take me to the Future Internet special.

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