1Mbps mobile handsets to debut next year

27 May 2008

According to O2’s current technology roadmap, 1Mbps handsets using EDGE technology will debut in the Irish marketplace by the middle of next year, the company’s outgoing chief technology officer, Oliver Coughlan, told siliconrepublic.com.

While there is much speculation over whether Apple will introduce a 3G version iPhone on 9 June next, Coughlan explained that other manufacturers are looking to emulate Apple’s success in blowing apart the traditional mobile phone form factor.

“The feedback from customers on the iPhone has been phenomenal. It gives you broadband, it gives you a widescreen iPod, its touchscreen and has quality voice and text. Customers love it and it has exceeded all expectations,” said Coughlan, who is due to retire this Friday.

Coughlan joined O2 when it was a start-up called Esat Digifone in 1996 and has seen the company be first acquired by BT and then by Telefonica three years ago.

During his time at the mobile operator, he has steered it from a pure voice and text carrier to a full mobile broadband player involving HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) and EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates through GSM Evolution) technologies. In recent years, he led the complex swapover from a 2G/2.5G network to a next-generation 3G network using Ericsson technology.

“From some of the HSDPA handsets we’ve seen previewed at the recent GSM Congress in Barcelona, faster, slimmer handsets will be widely available next year.

“Our EDGE handsets are five times faster than GPRS and our roadmap will see 1Mbps speeds available on handsets by the middle of next year.

“New products emerging from Samsung, Nokia and Sony Ericsson are slimline and faster with access to high -peed broadband by virtue of EDGE and HSDPA,” Coughlan said.

He explained that in order to survive mobile operators will need to transform into total telecoms operators that combine mobile with fixed-line services. In recent months, O2 has been tipped as a potential purchaser of broadband player Smart Telecom. Other companies like BT and Carphone Warehouse have also been noted as potential bidders and a price tag of €100m has been mentioned.

Without confirming whether O2 will emerge as the winning bidder for Smart, Coughlan said it is inevitable the company will enter the fixed line market.

“There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever. We’ve gone from utility voice and data to converged services like mobile broadband and fixed broadband and telecoms. We have to change to meet customer demands.

“As an organisation we are in the middle of making decisions around how we deliver fixed-line broadband to our customers. We have to get into that space. We also know from the experience of Telefonica that in any of the countries it has provided services the customers actually like, it reduces churn, ensuring stickiness to your brand.

“Traditional revenues are on the decline. It’s a very competitive marketplace and you have to look at what your customer wants and provide it,” Coughlan said.

By John Kennedy