GPRS has sparked off a hive of activity in the mobile phone market and in many ways is the catalyst for a whole new generation of products and services. Its introduction by Vodafone and O2 earlier this year has made a huge difference to those who use their mobiles for data services.
The service is an upgrade of the existing networks to allow for faster transmission of data. Existing GSM networks operate on the basis of circuit switching, whereby a path is obtained for and dedicated to a single connection for the duration of a call.
While the system functions well for voice connections, it is less efficient when it comes to data transmission. GPRS meanwhile works on the basis of packet switching. Data is broken down into relatively small chunks known as packets that are then routed through a network based on the destination address held within each packet.
As a result, GPRS provides faster data speeds compared to the current 9.6Kbps (kilobits per second) offered by existing GSM networks. It also promises always-on connections, eliminating the need to dial up for data services.
GPRS customers are charged on the basis of the amount of data sent or received rather than on the duration of a call. While data speeds do vary, they’re significantly faster than GSM, but a little slower than the 56Kbps provided by a landline dial-up connection. The upshot of it is that it is now far more practical to use your mobile phone in conjunction with a laptop computer or personal digital assistant to access email or the web.
For the heavy mobile data user, constantly connecting a mobile phone to a laptop can be a bit of a chore, even if done wirelessly via Bluetooth or infrared. A solution is available, however, in the form of a PCMCIA card that effectively adds mobile wireless access to a laptop without the need to connect a phone. What you do need to do though is slot your SIM card into the PCMCIA card.
Nokia pioneered the concept with its Nokia Card Phone and Nokia Card Phone 2.0. It is with the introduction of GPRS, however, that a demand for such cards may really take off. The latest offering from Nokia is the D211. The card works on both GPRS and HSCSD (high speed circuit switched data) networks.
A neat addition is the fact that the D211 doubles up as a Wi-Fi wireless local area network (LAN) card. Wi-Fi, also known by its technical name 802.11b, is fast becoming the de facto standard in wireless networking. It uses the standard Ethernet networking protocol and for this reason is often known as ‘wireless Ethernet’.
It can transmit data at a rate of 11Mbps (megabits per second). Wi-Fi has become a phenomenon in the US and is already becoming popular with small businesses and home users here in search of affordable networking. Using the D211 therefore means that you can use the same card to access the internet whether on your home network or out and about. It retails for around €199.
Meanwhile, Nokia is not the only manufacturer providing a GPRS card. Sony Ericsson has also got into the game with its GC75 card. Priced at approximately €399, it works on both GPRS and HSCSD networks. The GC75 features its own software suite and a detachable antenna for improved reception.
The mobile manufacturers aren’t the only ones to get in on the act. Take for example the Sierra Wireless Aircard 750. Unlike other cards on the market, the Aircard 750 works only on GPRS networks. Both Vodafone and T-Mobile have begun selling the card in the UK. The card is also available directly from Sierra Wireless (www.sierrawireless.com). It is priced at US$429 (approximately €430).
While such cards do have undoubted benefits, there is the hassle of having to pull your SIM card from your phone and insert it into the card.
One solution for the heavy user though is to simply acquire an extra SIM card for data and go for a minimal voice tariff and a high data tariff. While it will add an additional line rental fee onto your monthly bill, it does provide an almost ideal set for mobile internet access.