BT Cellnet picks Blackberry GPRS handsets

Research in Motion to supply wireless handheld devices for BT Cellnet's GPRS service

BT Cellnet has come a step closer to its rollout of an always-on wireless personal organiser, signing a supply agreement for 175,000 of the devices from Research In Motion (RIM) of Canada.

Cellnet will begin trials shortly and should be rolled out commercially to enterprises within the next six months.

The wireless devices, called BlackBerry, have become popular in the North American market as a way of staying in constant contact using corporate emails. Users can both send and receive messages, and a future model of BT Cellnet's version is expected to include voice communications. The voice-enabled BlackBerry could be available as early as this year, according to Cellnet.

Stuart Newstead, BT Cellnet general manager of wireless data services, stressed that the device will take advantage of the always-on capabilities of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). "Mobile email connectivity and integration are vital for business users," he said in a statement.

The fact that Cellnet's BlackBerry will operate over GPRS, instead of the pager networks used elsewhere, will give it faster transmission speeds. GPRS is a forerunner of 3G systems such as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), which will deliver broadband speeds and multimedia content to handsets.

Cellnet launched its GPRS service commercially in July of last year and claims to have had full national coverage since October. "It is available anywhere GSM is available," said a spokesman. However, availability of GPRS handsets, and particularly GPRS-enabled PC cards for laptops, remains limited.

Europolitan Holdings, the first company to roll out GPRS across Finland said growth had been blocked by the fact that only Motorola is producing a GPRS handset in full production quantities.

The wireless industry is looking to data services to continue its phenomenal growth, which so far has been driven by the popularity of mobile phones, but which is beginning to level out. Handset makers such as Nokia and Ericsson have said they expect this year to be slower than planned, with Ericsson outsourcing its handset manufacturing.

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