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T-Mobile: We must do more on data roaming

Operator's communications director outlines its 2007 strategy for roaming, HSDPA and the iPhone
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

A T-Mobile executive has conceded that the operator needs to do more to improve its data-roaming pricing.

Head of corporate communications, Robin O'Kelly, claimed on Wednesday that T-Mobile has successfully addressed the cost issues associated with voice roaming by lowering tariffs during 2006. It has also introduced flat-rate data pricing within the UK. However, he went on to admit that his network "needs to do more" to match the surcharge-free data roaming introduced recently by rival 3.

O'Kelly was outlining T-Mobile's strategy for the coming year. While 2006 was all about reducing "bill shock" through the introduction of Flext tariffs — allowing customers to create their own mix of voice minutes and texts — this year would see a greater focus on mobile internet functionality.

The operator is shunning the term "HSDPA" (the faster version of 3G) in favour of "mobile broadband", as is Vodafone. O'Kelly explained that this was to avoid "talking about a technology which people don't understand", and suggested that 3G had itself suffered from being promoted under such a technical banner.

Either way, O'Kelly continued, T-Mobile's HSDPA/mobile broadband speeds should hit 3.6Mbps (megabits per second) this year, allowing the service to "compete with home broadband". When the operator started rolling out HSDPA last year, it claimed it would reach 7Mbps by the end of 2007. The operator's 3G coverage will also increase from 70 percent of the country to 80 percent during 2007.

O'Kelly praised 3's launch of its X-Series device, which gives unlimited internet access, for raising awareness of mobile internet, but was sceptical that 3's inclusion of Slingbox functionality — which allows users to view their home TV channels through their handsets — would catch on. "I do not think mobile TV will be big until we've moved on technology-wise," he said, adding that this would "probably" happen during 2007.

3's tie-in with Skype was also premature, O'Kelly suggested, claiming that VoIP usage had not really caught on in the fixed-line world, let alone mobile. "I genuinely don't feel an energetic pull from consumers [regarding VoIP]," he added. He denied that T-Mobile may have been working on own-branded VoIP and instant messaging clients, but suggested that it may still consider such an approach.

Asked whether T-Mobile would consider carrying Apple's much-discussed iPhone, O'Kelly said the operator had a strong interest in the possibility but would still need to "learn how [Apple] want to distribute it in Europe".

"Are they going to have a 3G version for Europe? It would be handicapping itself if it turned up as 2.5G," said O'Kelly, while pointing out that the iPhone was "a long way off" and would have to compete with rivals such as the Nokia N95, which will soon be added to T-Mobile's catalogues.

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