Vendors Sharpen EDGE
The service provider, along with every other GSM operator, is examining the potential of EDGE, which represents the next step up from GPRS (general packet radio service) and has the potential to increase data throughput to a theoretical 384 kbit/s, or up to 100 kbit/s in the real world (see the "Air Interface" section of A Wireless Taxonomy for further descriptions).
"We are looking at the potential of EDGE, but it's no more than that," says O2 Ireland corporate affairs manager Johanna Cassells. "We have been looking at a number of data services, and have launched GPRS services and some wireless LAN hotspots, so we're looking at other high-speed wireless data technologies." The hotspots are currently offering trial services (see mmO2 Gears Up For WLAN).
O2 Ireland has a 3G license, and Cassells says the operator would view EDGE services very much as complementary to, and not instead of, 3G services.
This is the view of many operators that have commented on the potential of EDGE deployments in Europe. Most of the GSM base stations shipped and deployed in the past few years can be easily and cheaply upgraded to offer EDGE services. The main pain for operators considering the technology would be in finding handsets or PC cards for the service, and then selling them. There are no EDGE handsets or cards available for the European market yet, though Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) says it will have devices ready for the frequencies used by GSM networks in Europe (900 MHz and 1800 MHz) this year.
The market for EDGE is more defined in the Americas, where GSM networks use 850MHz and 1900MHz spectrum (see Finns EDGE In, Nokia EDGEs Into Arizona, and Nokia Launches EDGE Device). The potential for vendors and carriers to make money from the upgrade in Europe is less clear.
IDC analyst Paolo Pescatore (or Paul the Fisherman, as he's known in the U.K.) says a lot depends on data usage patterns. "I have a sneaky suspicion we'll see EDGE used in Europe, though the timing will depend on the data demands put on the existing GPRS networks," he says, adding that applications such as cameraphones, online gaming, and business useage could drive adoption.
Once 3G networks are live, Pescatore believes EDGE could be used to offer data coverage in rural areas, with 3G base station build-outs restricted to urban and suburban areas.
Meanwhile, the EDGE story is being pushed hard by vendor groups, such as the Global Mobile Suppliers Association and by the vendors themselves. "For the vendors it's a chance to make more money from the existing networks and sell more handsets," says Pescatore, who notes that Nokia has been pushing the technology most vigorously (see Euro Edge Creeps Closer ).
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung