Asian Operators Test GPRS Roaming

HONG KONG (03/21/2000) - Mobile phone operators in Hong Kong and Singapore have successfully tested roaming between their respective GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks using equipment from Nokia Corp., the Finnish mobile phone maker announced yesterday.

Implemented widely, GPRS roaming could allow users to travel around the world and continue using the packet-based wireless service, which can exchange data without the need to establish a dial-up session. GSM (global system for mobile communications) network operators around the world are currently upgrading their circuit-switched networks to support GPRS, with the first service rollouts expected by the second half of this year.

The two carriers, M1 in Singapore and Hong Kong's Cable & Wireless HKT Ltd., set up the signalling for roaming on an experimental connection using Nokia network equipment, the Finnish company said in a statement. The company said it was the first such successful test.

Nokia expects commercial GPRS services in the Singapore and Hong Kong networks to begin this year.

M1 and C&W HKT's GPRS networks were connected over an IP (Internet protocol)-based secure virtual private network between Nokia Border Gateway devices, the statement said.

Users of mobile phones already take advantage of roaming services for conventional circuit-based services, with reciprocal arrangements among carriers in different service areas for accounting and billing.

GPRS is designed for data applications, such as retrieving and sending email or corporate data, and doesn't require a dedicated circuit as conventional mobile phone service does. As a result, a user can set a phone handset or handheld computer to continuously exchange data without incurring the cost of an hours-long phone call.

Theoretically, GPRS service can be both faster and cheaper than using a conventional cellular modem, according to Nicholas Khoo, a Singapore-based analyst at Gartner Group Inc.

Nokia said GPRS can provide peak throughput as high as 100K bits per second (bps). In reality, most users are likely to experience speeds between 14K bps and 56K bps when the services are rolled out in several regions next year, Khoo said. Most GSM data services currently top out at 9.6K bps.

When technology for GPRS roaming becomes widely available, carriers in developed markets are likely to adopt it to add to the value of their GPRS service offerings, Khoo said.

As a carrier, "if I've made the investment in the network . . . that would look to me like more revenue for my GPRS investment and a good service for my subscribers," Khoo said.

For the user, "it should be fairly transparent. If one phone has GPRS, you should be able to use GPRS on the other network," Khoo said.

The most popular devices for GPRS are likely to be handsets that can provide both conventional circuit-switched voice calling and packet-based GPRS data services, Khoo said. Nokia and M1 said in a statement last year that they plan to wed GPRS communication with WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) for information display on handset screens.

One delay in the delivery of GPRS has been the slow development of handsets that support it, Khoo said.

Hong Kong and Singapore -- both hot markets for wireless mobile services -- are ideal pioneers for new mobile services, he said.

"Small countries probably have an advantage in all these types of technologies, because they can roll out the service much more quickly," Khoo said.

"Physically, they can do it faster."

Nokia, in Espoo, Finland, can be reached via the Web at http://www.nokia.com.

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