Orange GPRS launch slips to fourth quarter

The mobile network operator now says its consumer GPRs service will launch in the fourth quarter, but details remain vague
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Mobile network operator Orange is planning to launch its consumer GPRS service sometime before the end of 2001, up to three months later than previously expected.

The company is refusing to disclose much information about its planned consumer GPRS network, despite being several months behind its main rivals in launching the service. Nor will Orange say which handsets it expects to be selling -- even though it would need to be making deals with manufacturers now in order to guarantee supplies in time for the end of this year.

Back in June, an Orange spokesman told ZDNet that the company was hoping to launch a consumer GPRS service in Q3 2001. Orange launched a limited trial back in June, when selected subscribers were given a Motorola T260 handset in return for supplying feedback. According to an Orange spokesman, this trial is still going on, and the company isn't prepared to reveal any preliminary results from it.

Orange's main rivals, mmO2 (formerly BT Wireless) and Vodafone, have both been running consumer GPRS services since May and June respectively. Analysts think it is important that mobile operators make a success of the faster-speed data services possible with GPRS -- as a way of educating mobile phone users of the potential of 3G. It's possible, therefore, that Orange could have missed out on the chance to sign up the early-adopters of mobile data services.

The company denies this suggestion, though, pointing to the HSCSD (high-speed circuit switched data) service it launched back in 1999, which allows a user to access the Internet via a mobile phone at similar speeds to GPRS. "We've been educating users of the benefits of high-speed mobile Internet access through our HSCSD service," said an Orange spokesman.

He also claimed that "other mobile operators" have had problems with their GPRS services. "We think it's best to launch a service when it's ready and you know it definitely works, so that customers are not disappointed," the Orange spokesman added.

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