Not quite 2G, not quite 3G: Orange fills speed gaps

'Don't push me, because I'm close to the EDGE... '
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

'Don't push me, because I'm close to the EDGE... '

The UK has got its first EDGE network - boosting data speeds for mobile users outside of 3G areas - courtesy of Orange.

Orange said the new network, which promises speeds between 100 and 200Kbps, is already live in 300 network sites and will be up and running in 1,500 by the year's end.

According to an Orange spokesman, only the tech-savvy will be aware of the new network but 3G users will notice an extension in their data coverage.

He said: "It's designed to be complementary to people using our 3G service. EDGE allows us to extend slightly further into rural areas. The focus is more on 3G - helping us to fill in the little areas that maybe won't get 3G for a while."

The operator has already prepped a number of EDGE-equipped handsets for the launch, including the Nokia N70 smart phone and the BlackBerry 8700g. Like 3G before it, EDGE will also start life in both handset and data card form, although Orange's data card will surface a little later - some time this quarter, the operator said.

Rachel Lashford, analyst at Canalys, said businesses will be the first to take advantage of EDGE. "Orange certainly focused on the enterprise and that's something they want to encourage," she said. "We're seeing many of these devices bought in by individuals; they're early adopters that want access to their data. I think we'll see more of enterprises purchasing and using [EDGE] devices."

Deploying an EDGE network is typically a relatively inexpensive process, using an operator's existing infrastructure - with modern networks, just buying a licence from an EDGE supplier can be enough to go live. Orange's supplier Nokia hinted last week that the UK was to see its first EDGE network in a very short timeframe.

Orange has already been testing EDGE, also somewhat charmlessly called 2.75G, in a number of other countries including France and Slovakia. Orange's spokesman said the experience of the operator's subsidiaries abroad encouraged the UK to opt for EDGE.

The technology has already been deployed more broadly in some areas of eastern Europe while operators take a wait-and-see attitude toward 3G. According to Orange's spokesman, the odd order of the UK operator's rollout is down to the progress of 3G.

He said: "In the grand scheme of things, it would have been GPRS, EDGE then 3G but because the launch of 3G was faster than some areas expected, EDGE was overlooked in the UK."

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