BT claims WAP first, argues with Orange

The two biggest WAP operators engage in a war of words, Justin Pearse reports

A row has broken out between BT Cellnet, which claimed last week to offer the first fully operational WAP service, and Orange which launched its own WAP service last September.

Cellnet's Internet Phone service launched Friday boasting it was not a "walled garden" (controlled proprietary content) offering and provided subscribers with 36 ready made WAP services as well as plenty of working phones. The latter point is significant because Orange has been hobbled by a lack of Nokia 7110s, the only phones able to run its service.

"The year 2000 is the year when mobile data becomes a reality," said BT Cellnet managing director Peter Erskine. "We are not showing dry ice, we are doing it and we are taking you there first".

Orange reacted furiously to BT's boast with a spokeswoman claiming there were "thousands" of happy customers already using its WAP service. She assured ZDNet that customers would be able to find WAP handsets in all the larger Orange retail, Carphone Warehouse and Dixons stores by the weekend. By Monday morning, even Orange's four largest outlets did not have the handsets.

Despite Orange's protests, Cellnet argues that its failure to supply enough phones coupled with a walled garden of content, does not justify its claim of being first with WAP. "If you go into an Orange shop today you won't be able to get hold of a WAP phone," said Kent Thexton, BT Cellnet marketing manager. "We aren't selling a product that customers can't use. This is the first working service, we are not just chucking phones into the market."

While BT pats itself on the back for having a service that will run from day one, Katrina Bond, analyst at telecoms research firm Analysis, said this "is a wait and see situation". She explained: "BT may say it has enough phones, but we'll have to see how long it is before they run out."

However Bond does see Cellnet's offering as having a major advantage over the Orange service, "any operator that is providing a walled garden of content is misleading itself as to what will be the most successful strategy," she said.

Subscribers to BT Cellnet Internet phone will be able to access services from mobile ISP Genie. This include email, news, sport and weather. Other partner deals include BBC news, access to the Excite portal, flight bookings from, cinema information from Popcorn, turn by turn driving instructions from MapQuest and financial information from European Investor.

BT Cellnet said it plans to introduce two new WAP services a week.

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