Orange to squeeze out GPRS in March

The mobile operator is planning to launch business GPRS services in six European countries next month, although consumers must wait until the second quarter of 2002

Business customers in the UK and several other European countries will be able to get an Orange GPRS account before the end of March 2002, the network operator guaranteed on Tuesday.

Individuals will have to wait until the second quarter of this year. Although Orange has allowed a small number of individuals on particular talk plans to upgrade to GPRS already, this was part of a trial, and those not included in it will have to wait.

Didier Quillot, chief executive of Orange France, told reporters on Tuesday that the company was planning to launch business GPRS services simultaneously across Europe in the first quarter of this year, with a mass market launch around three months later.

"In the business market, we are hoping for several tens of millions of subscribers in each country. Among the general public, I would say we are targeting several hundred thousand," said Quillot, who was speaking at 3GSM World Congress in Cannes. Orange operates networks in France, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Poland.

GPRS networks will allow significantly faster data transfer rates than GSM, making it easier for users to surf the Internet from their handset. Users should be able to use their phone as a wireless modem and surf the Internet from their laptop computers.

Some of Orange's UK rivals are several months ahead of it when it comes to GRPS. Vodafone and mmO2 both launched consumer services in 2001, but Orange has denied in the past that it has been too slow to embrace GPRS. Orange's HSCSD (high-speed, circuit-switched data) network, which launched in August 2000, also offers faster speeds than GSM.


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