UMTS will eclipse GPRS before its peak

The GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) mobile phone networks being launched across Europe will never be used to full capacity, as handset makers are sluggish with mobile phone development, according to market research firm Gartner Group Inc.

“Handsets capable of utilizing full GPRS capacity would be coming out in 2003, but by that time mobile operators will be screaming for UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System),” said Peter Richardson, chief analyst at Gartner’s Dataquest division, in a presentation here at the Gartner Europe Spring Symposium/ITxpo 2001.

The first GPRS handsets – expected to come to market in the second half of this year – will only offer transfer speeds a “little over what GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) offers now,” said Richardson.

The handset manufacturers, according to Richardson, are struggling to develop the cellphones the market is asking for.

“GPRS and UMTS clashed. While the GPRS specification was being designed, UMTS came in from a different angle. Ideally you would have had five years of GPRS and then introduce UMTS for extra services. From a handset vendor’s point of view the current situation is impossible to build on,” Richardson said.

Initial GPRS handsets will carry data at rates from 14.4Kbps (bits per second) to about 43.2Kbps. Early next year Gartner expects devices to become available that will offer speeds up to about 64Kbps, equivalent to a fixed-line ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) channel. GPRS, an extension of the GSM system that adds support for packet data traffic, can theoretically handle connections at speeds up to 115.2Kbps, depending on the design of the handset and the amount of network capacity dedicated to the service.

No UMTS handsets are on the market yet, but the standard specifies support for two maximum data rates: 2Mbps in a pedestrian, or low-mobility, environment, and 384Kbps in a high-mobility environment. Initial handsets, however, are expected to offer data rates no higher than 144Kbps.

“It’s scary how little it (GPRS) will deliver,” said Maxim Eaton, a mobile commerce consultant from London attending the conference session. “There is more to it than just the operators hyping it and saying we can reach a certain transfer rate.”

Gartner’s Europe Spring Symposium/ITxpo 2001, in Florence, Italy, ends Friday. Further information can be found at