A Forrester report published Wednesday has dismissed BT Cellnet's claims of providing a full commercial rollout of GPRS services by the summer as "pure marketing".
The analyst foresees a number of problems for Cellnet's rollout of GPRS, which managing director Peter Erskine, promised would arrive ahead of its rivals.
It also says such promises are designed to scupper the competition. "There will be nothing like a full commercial launch [of Cellnet's GPRS services]," says Lars Godell, author of the Forrester report. "They are trying to steal the limelight from Orange's introduction of its HSCSD network upgrade."
As with the introduction of WAP, one of the biggest hurdles for commercial rollout of GPRS, according to Forrester, will be a lack of compliant handsets. Despite the hype from vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson, the report predicts that it will be another year before we see significant volumes of GPRS handsets.
"I've been talking to suppliers and they're saying they're going to need to do testing with the handsets after GPRS goes live," says Godell. "The network upgrade will be done by the summer. That's a no brainer, but it doesn't help if you don't have any terminals."
BT Cellnet recently attacked Orange for launching its WAP service late last year, before it had a adequate supplies of handsets, claiming that this made it the first to launch a commercial WAP service in January.
Orange, which is rolling out its GPRS service in Q4, is delighted that the tables have been turned on its rival. Although its HSCSD services will be aimed at business rather than consumers -- it will launch with a PC card modem rather than mobile handsets -- a spokesman points out: "If you're a heavy mobile user there is nothing out there for six to nine months."
BT Cellnet however stands firmly by its promise to roll out commercial GPRS this summer. Stuart Newstead, head of commercial development for data services at Cellnet, dismisses Forrester's charges as "just plain wrong".
Newstead is scathing of claims that it will not have significant stocks of handsets to make the launch of GPRS viable. "We will have enough handsets for a commercial launch by the end of June," he says, while admitting that its corporate customers will get first bite of the pie. For consumers he promises "significant volumes in the shops by September".
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