Swedes spurn next-generation Web phones

First nationwide rollout fails to attract mobile-happy Swedes

Sweden's first nation-wide GPRS service has failed to take off, adding to the gloomy news surrounding the wireless telecoms market.

The news follows the disappointing flotation of Orange, France Telecom's UK-based mobile provider. Orange launched Tuesday at a reduced price and then dropped below its launch price, adding to fears that the once-booming sector has peaked out.

Europolitan Holdings launched Sweden's first nationwide GPRS (general packet radio service) offering in December, but the number three mobile company has attracted "a very low number" of GPRS customers since then, chief executive Jon Risfelt told the Swedish newspaper FinansTidningen. GPRS gives handsets a constant connection to the Internet and is seen as a preview for 3G or UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications system) technology, in which phone companies have invested billions.

Risfelt blamed a "total absence" of handsets, saying the only currently available GPRS phone is Motorola's Timeport. He said demand for GPRS itself remains strong. Nokia and Ericsson are planning to launch GPRS phones later this year, which may boost take-up.

Europolitan did not cite subscription figures, but the newspaper said only 1,000 of the Motorola GPRS phones have been sold.

Despite the massive demand for UMTS licences when they were auctioned off last year, investors are still uncertain whether consumers will be keen on surfing the Web and making online transactions via mobile phones.

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