The first commercial U.S. roll out of high-speed data services for phones using the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) protocol began Tuesday in Seattle, AT&T Wireless Inc. said.
AT&T Wireless is offering the service to Seattle customers with Motorola Inc. Timeport 7382i GPRS cell phones. A standard contract of US$49.99 per month grants 400 minutes of air time and 1M byte of data sent or received. Every additional four kilobytes of data sent will cost $0.03, totaling $7.68 for an additional megabyte, according to an AT&T Wireless spokesman.
Motorola's 7382i phone contains a microbrowser that uses WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). The phone can switch between data mode and voice calls without interrupting the data session. The phone also features voice activation, a voice recorder, an infrared IrDA (Infrared Data Association) connection and a data port. It is priced at $199.99, with additional costs for hardware and software to link the phone to a PC.
GPRS allows a cell phone user with a compatible phone to access the Internet, send and receive e-mail and do other data-intensive tasks. While GPRS is faster than the current 2G, or second-generation wireless services, it is considered a stopgap technology until 3G (third generation) services emerge.
Beyond faster data transfer speeds, GPRS offers the advantage of "always-on" service. E-mail can be sent or received in burst transmissions without needing to dial a connection to the service provider. By breaking data into packets, the service provider can charge for data transmissions by byte sent across the network and not by air time used.
GPRS is widely available in Europe, in part because it is built using the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless protocol. Europe's cellular networks generally use GSM, while U.S. providers more frequently use CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) protocol systems.
AT&T Wireless is based in Redmond, Washington, near Seattle. It said it plans to offer GPRS service to about 40 percent of the U.S. population it serves by year's end, and to the rest of its customers by the end of 2002. 3G services will be deployed in 2002 as well, the company said.