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Firms will need clear usage policy to get most from Vodafone’s 3G business service

Cliff Saran

Vodafone has launched a 3G service for mobile business users, almost four years after it bought its UK 3G licence for £5.96bn.

Users wishing to use the high-speed data access service will need Vodafone’s Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS PCMCIA data card, which plugs into notebook PCs. To access corporate applications users will require either a virtual private network connection or a leased line linked to Vodafone’s network.

Vodafone’s 3G network only covers 30% of the UK population, so the new service also supports GPRS data connectivity. Huw Medcraft, director of product management at Vodafone, said, "The Mobile Connect data card provides access to 3G and GPRS with seamless hand-over." This means that a user’s network connection is not lost if the card switches between the 3G and GPRS networks.

The service is being charged on usage, starting at £10 a month for a low-user tariff, rising to £85 for a power-user. The low-user tariff bundles 5Mbytes of data access per month, and the power-user tariff includes 500Mbytes.

Ben Wood, principal analyst at Gartner, said 3G data services were "a big leap forward from GPRS". However, he urged users to consider the premium they would pay for mobile access to applications. IT departments should run a pilot to assess the cost implications of running 3G and should establish clear usage policies to avoid unnecessary costs. "It does not make sense to rely [on a 3G data card] when you are in a Wi-Fi area," Wood said.

Mark Blowers, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said network access needed to be automatic, so that if a user was in a Wi-Fi zone, their notebook PC would connect via Wi-Fi, rather than 3G or GPRS.

The road to third generation mobile services

2000: The government auctions licences to telcos, giving them the right to run 3G services. Many industry watchers saw 3G, which allows users to download data at 384kbps and upload at 64kbps, as essential for mobile data access, the next wave of technology innovation.

September 2000: Vodafone pays £5.9bn for UK 3G licence

March 2001: UK availability of Vodafone’s GPRS service for business

October 2002: First consumer GPRS service, Vodafone Live!, starts running

March 2003: Vodafone introduces its first GPRS data card

Summer 2003: Blackberry GPRS service launched

November 2003: Consumer version of Blackberry service introduced

April 2004: Launch of 3G mobile data service for business users.


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