Microcell’s GPRS launch kicks off pay-per-megabit era

Microcell Telecommunications Inc.’s new GPRS service represents a big jump in data transfer speeds available for mobile users, but paying by the megabit will take some getting used to, according to one analyst.

“This is a huge jump” in speed, said Jeremy Depow, a senior analyst with the Kanata, Ont.-based Yankee Group in Canada.

Montreal-based Microcell Wednesday said starting Oct. 15, it will offer general packet radio services (GPRS), with data transfer rates of up to 56 Kbps, to mobile users.

“This is going to offer a whole new range of services to the Canadian user,” Depow said.

Currently, personal communications service (PCS) subscribers can get data transfers rates of about 10 Kbps. GPRS is often dubbed “2.5G”, referring to the fact that industry watchers see it as a transition between current second-generation services and third generation (3G), which boast data transfer rates of up to 2 Mbps but won’t be available until at least next year in Canada.

Microcell will offer GPRS under the Fido brand to subscribers using the Motorola P280 handset, which costs $500 and includes a universal serial bus (USB) cable so users can connect their phones to their personal digital assistants (PDAs) or notebook computers.

What’s different about GPRS is that service will be sold by the amount of data transferred, and not by air time. Fido customers subscribing to the cheapest data-only plans will be charged $25 for the first 2 Mb, and then $10 per additional Mb. Three other plans will be available; the most expensive plan will cost $150 for the first 100 Mb and $1.50 for each additional Mb.

Subscribers using WAP phones will be five cents per Kb. Canadians aren’t used to paying by Mb, Depow said, adding it’s unclear how well this will be received.

“They’re used to judging price by the minutes they use or the seconds they use, and all of a sudden there’s this new service that’s priced totally differently,” Depow said. “It’s going to take a while for their frame of mind to wrap around this and for them to get an understanding of how much money they’re spending.”

But he added wireless Internet prices have been going up and “this is probably a more efficient way to use the wireless Internet.”

The fact that Microcell is first to market will be an advantage for the carrier, he added.

Rogers Wireless Inc. announced in July it had completed installing its GPRS network and was starting to test it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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