It has been a busy couple of weeks for Ireland’s two biggest mobile operators, with each announcing new products and services. The catalyst for much of this activity has been the arrival of high-speed data in the form of GPRS earlier this year and the more recent arrival of MMS (multimedia messaging service).
First up this week was O2, who provided a briefing on Monday on its new MMS service. Although officially announced on 31 October, the service didn’t go live until 4 November. O2 confirmed that it would be launching the service with three camera phones, the Nokia 7650, the Panasonic GD87 and the Sharp GX1, the latter model being available exclusively on the O2 network. Two other MMS-enabled handsets that do not feature cameras will also be available from O2 – the Sony Ericsson T300 and T68i. O2 confirmed that it would be charging 50 cents per message and from November to January it will be giving away 20 free messages per month to its post-paid customers.
O2’s announcement comes on the back of Vodafone’s launch of MMS last month as part of its Vodafone Live! package. Also live this week was Vodafone’s Email Anywhere service, which was officially launched on Tuesday. The service allows workers to pick up their email when on the move, on a variety of devices such as laptops, hand-helds or Wap-enabled phones. The service sits alongside a corporate email server and picks up email for re-transmission to a mobile device. The email is then securely transmitted onto the Vodafone network. Customers using a Wap phone are given a specific Wap page to visit for collecting their email. A user name and password is required before the emails can be viewed. In the case of PDAs (personal digital assistants) or laptops with conventional web browsers, a specific web page can be visited to view email. A registration fee of €25 for up to 25 users or €15 for more than 25 users applies. After that a monthly usage fee of €15 per user for up to 25 users and €10 per user for more than 25 users is payable. GPRS or HSCSD (high speed circuit switched data) usage fees will also apply.
O2 is already in the email on the move market with its BlackBerry device. On Monday, it previewed its next move on this front by announcing O2 Extended Office, a service that appears to go head-to-head with the Vodafone offering. The new service will work by supplying the customer with a dedicated server along with Extended Office software, which creates an interface between the GPRS network and the company LAN (local area network). The system works by syncing the individual’s mobile inbox with that on their corporate network. As well as being able to operate with laptops, the system is compatible with a variety of mobile devices, such as those running Windows Pocket PC, Symbian and Palm operating systems. It will also work with a BlackBerry.
O2 is currently trailing the service among selected clients and expects to make it available in the beginning of 2003. No details on pricing are available as yet. However, O2 confirmed that the fee will comprise a server licence fee that is either payable up front or in instalments. After that, the usual GPRS usage fees will apply.
O2 also announced that it has rolled out location-based services, in the form of a new product called Locator. It will provide customers with location specific information on nearby amenities such as ATMs or restaurants. Locator also features a Buddy Finder service, which allows users to find people based on the location of their mobile phone. The accuracy of the service depends on the location of the user. In urban areas, it is likely to narrow it down to a street. In rural areas, where cells are more spread out, it will place someone in a townland area. Given the privacy concerns, customers must register their details and people can only be located by others if they provide their permission. All of the location-based services provided by O2 are accessible via SMS (short messaging service), Wap or online at www.o2.ie. Each time the service is used, a fee of 11 cents will apply.
Needless to say, Vodafone is also entering the location-based services arena. Already up and running is a location-based game, BotFighters. It allows users to compete against other mobile users and works via SMS. A Wap-based service for locating nearby services is also up and running. The service will be upgraded in January to allow for an SMS add-on. A people-finding service is also on offer from Vodafone. Expected to be launched early in the new year, the service will allow users to locate others based on their mobile’s location. It is expected that it will be accessible either via Wap or SMS. Once again, strict rules will apply to protect individual’s privacy and each user will have to register and consent to be located by others.