Orange to launch consumer GPRS this autumn

The UK mobile network operator is playing catch-up to its rivals, with a consumer GPRS service due to launch this autumn

Orange will follow the lead taken by rivals BTCellnet and Vodafone this autumn when it launches its own consumer GPRS service, offering a high-speed, always-on Internet connection for mobile phones.

The company sent out letters to existing subscribers earlier this week, inviting them to participate in a trial. "Orange's consumer GPRS service will be launched sometime in the third quarter of this year, but there isn't a fixed date yet," said a spokesman. The spokesman was unable to say how many people would be involved in the trial, but said will only be available to people who are already signed up to Orange.

In return for providing feedback, users who sign up for the trial will get GPRS at a much cheaper rate than is currently available on the market. They will pay £4 per month for three months, and will get to keep a Motorola Timeport 260 handset -- currently the only GPRS handset available.

Ericsson yesterday announced details of its T39 GPRS phone, and Motorola is planning to ship four new GPRS devices this summer.

GPRS, also known as 2.5G, will allow a faster data transfer rate than is possible with GSM, and is based on today's GSM networks. GPRS provides a constant connection to the Internet, and users are charged according to the amount of data they download -- rather than by the length of time a call takes, as GSM users are when downloading a Wap page.

Analysts predict that GPRS will have to be successful if users are to be persuaded to migrate to 3G networks. BT Cellnet and Vodafone both already operate consumer GPRS networks -- and Orange has been under pressure to follow suit. Vodafone's GPRS service undercuts BT Cellnet's offering by £100.

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