Sizing Up GPRS

Opinion: GPRS in the U.S.? A few lessons can be learned from Europe.

Youre thinking of investing in a mass-market GPRS data project? Let me show you an old sepia-tint photograph.

The photograph isnt of an early portable phone. Its of a street in North London—actually, the street where my wife grew up. It shows Crouch End Broadway, if you really want to look it up. There is a car driving along the road, and a few people walking across the street.

Selling a GPRS data system in America is as tempting as selling an autocar to the people in that photograph. What can possibly go wrong? You can park wherever you like. There are no street lights—what for? Theres no conflict between streams of traffic. It looks like a motorist would be in heaven. Go on, buy an automobile!

So, of course, people did. The same street is now marked with parking prohibitions, aluminum fencing to keep pedestrians off the dangerous traffic zone, and more red, amber and green lights than Londons famous Oxford Street has for its holiday decorations; and it is absolutely solid with frustrated motorists driving at 5 miles per hour.

PalmOne has (as pointed out in an earlier column) singularly failed to repeat its American success in Europe, and President Ed Colligan arrived in London to whip up enthusiasm amongst the financial community—ahead of his launch of the Treo 650 smartphone next February.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of PalmOnes Tungsten T5.

There was skepticism because it is clear that Colligan, like most American pioneers of wireless data, really doesnt know what a phone traffic jam is like. Like so many other visitors from across the Atlantic, he spoke airily of reading all his e-mail on his Treo in London and Singapore and Sydney. And there was this silence. An uncomfortable silence.

The same problem faces Danger as it attempts to launch its Hiptop in Europe, on the back of its success in the States. Both these devices have succeeded in generating far more revenue per user for the networks that sell them in North America, but both are viewed as a menace by European phone operators. Why? Simple! Theyll jam the data highways.

Next Page: "All you can eat" deal.