Fido adds broadband bite to cellphone service

Microcell says it plans to let Fido run a bit faster.

Wireless communications provider Microcell Solutions Inc., which operates under the Fido brand name, announced Wednesday the launch of its new generation of Internet-enabled wireless phones.

The Montreal-based company is the first Canadian wireless provider to offer data services based on General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technology.

Using Fido’s wireless access protocol (WAP)-enabled Motorola P280, handset (priced at $500), the GPRS network provides a constant broadband connection that allows users to send and receive data at speeds of up to 56kbps in a fully mobile environment, Microcell said. Beginning in mid-October, Fido customers will be offered introductory voice and data packages that incorporate GPRS network access.

GPRS service is currently the fastest Internet access for mobile devices and applications, said Fulvio Bussandri, president and chief operating officer of Microcell Solutions. The GPRS network is an overlay on current wireless service.

The connection is always on, and corporate or individual customers are only charged for the volume of data transferred, Bussandri said. The phone features voice-activated dialing and predictive text entry, and can also be connected (via standard universal serial bus cable) to laptops, PDAs and other personal computing devices. He added that additional GPRS-equipped devices are currently in development.

“In the near future, Motorola will add on another handset (the Motorola V66),” Bussandri. “The beauty of that particular handset is that it’s tri-band – which basically means that is wherever GSM/GPRS networks are in the footprints of the world, you will be able to access the same kind of services,” Bussandri said. All future GPRS products will feature tri-band capability, he added.

Microcell’s national GSM/GPRS network was completed in April, said a spokesman for Fido, followed in June by the creation of “Project Rainbow” – a multi-company initiative to further develop wireless data applications and services.

“For now, you have the basic access to Internet and e-mail, over time you will probably see more vertical application of services (inventory control, fleet management,) – you can integrate into the terminal device along with the connectivity that we offer,” Bussandri said.

GPRS is an significant improvement to wireless service but should really be considered 2.5G technology – true 3G (third generation) technology is still three or four years down the road, said Lawrence Surtees, wireless telecom analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto.

True 3G would mean that the wireless connection is faster than a wired DSL connection, and GPRS is not quite there yet, Surtees said.

Surtees added that Canadian customers will experience better and faster service using GPRS versus regular PCS technology.

“I think that people should maximize GPRS for what it’s worth right now rather than anticipate something that may take years to come,” Bussandri said.

Microcell Solutions Inc., in Montreal, is at