Auckland-based Vodafone New Zealand is testing technology which will allow mobile phones to be constantly connected to the Internet.
Last week Vodafone engineers made the first call using GPRS (general packet radio service) call on a network in New Zealand.
Roll-out of GPRS technology will mean that customers don’t have to dial up every time they want to connect to mobile Internet services.
As a result, a user can set a phone handset or hand held computer to continuously exchange data without incurring the cost of an hours-long phone call.
The technology, which is designed for applications such as email or exchanging corporate data, will make mobile Internet and the use of WAP (wireless application protocol) applications more viable.
Theoretically GPRS can also transmit data at five to 10 times the speed of current transfer rates (around 9.6 Kbit/s) but in reality most users are likely get speeds between 14 Kbit/s and 56Kbit/s.
Vodafone New Zealand spokesman Mark Champion says the company plans to launch the enhanced service to customers towards the end of the year or early next year.
This follows moves by its parent company Vodafone Airtouch, which is also carrying out extensive testing of GPRS this month in its Newbury, UK headquarters and is also looking to launch the service by the end of the year.
Vodafone is working with Swedish mobile phone maker L.M. Ericsson Telephone to develop a GPRS handset that should reach the market in January 2001. The handset will have up to four channels and run at 48K-bps, which is the same as a (standard) modem, according to a company official.
GSM (global system for mobile communications) network operators around the world are currently upgrading their circuit-switched networks to support GPRS.
In Asia, mobile phone operators in Hong Kong and Singapore have successfully tested roaming between their respective GPRS networks using equipment from Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia.
Implemented widely, GPRS roaming could allow users to travel around the world and continue using the packet-based wireless service.