Business users of mobile phones are to be offered failsafe and substantially faster connections to their intranets from this month.
BT Cellnet is launching the world's first general packet radio service (GPRS) aimed at those who are frustrated by dropped lines and data transfer speeds of less than 9.6kbps. This is only a fifth of the speed enjoyed by home Internet users.
Experts said the most useful aspect of GPRS is its "always-on" feature. Here handsets are always connected to the network and can hold content in a buffer for up to an hour when a mobile moves out of range of a radio base station.
This gives mobile users access to real-time data and allows field staff and their managers to update information, send e-mails and schedule appointments in online diaries that are always accessible.
"You cannot underestimate the importance of 'always-on' to busy people," said David Tripp, head of the mobile group at the Telecommunications Managers Association.
BT Cellnet says handsets that are twice as fast as GSM models will be available from this month and models that are four times as fast should be available by the end of the year. It is possible to produce models that are eight times as fast but these are not expected soon.
Stuart Newstead, marketing manager for wireless data at BT Cellnet, said a typical user might spend £5,000 connecting an intranet to the mobile network at £199 per headset.
Andrew Peck, marketing director of e-business consultancy the Smith Group, said GPRS would be particularly useful for managers at smaller firms who could not afford to use proprietary high-speed mobile networks from specialists like Ram and Cognito.
Nigel Deighton, research director at Gartner, said, "You will probably get a better return on investment with GPRS than if you put the money into e-commerce."
But he warned users to check the stability of software on early handset models, following similar problems with GSM WAP phones, and check that connections were maintained when travelling on trains and by car.
GPRS is not to be confused with broadband mobile networks which will become available in two year's time. These offer a further tenfold increase in data speed but require major investment in radio base infrastructure and the use of different frequences, recently auctioned for £22bn by the Government.