Your Shout! Is GPRS worth the money?

The Connected column by Antony Savvas on the costs of using GPRS services attracted a lot of reader interest, with attention...

The Connected column by Antony Savvas on the costs of using GPRS services attracted a lot of reader interest, with attention centred on the pros and cons of payment by volumes of information sent, rather than time online.

The difficulty of predicting data volumes is a thorny issue for many readers who responded to The high price of GPRS. As Hugh Pritchard points out:

"I sometimes get up to 50 e-mails a day to my primary e-address - many of them are spam and some are quite large. I don't want to use GPRS for them because I will end up paying for messages I don't want at all or I don't need straight away.

"What I would really like is an ADSL-style GPRS service. I would pay a fixed fee each month, say between £10 and £40, and get an always-on connection with unlimited amounts of data transfers, but the more I pay the bigger my bandwidth or the higher the priority of my data, so the faster it comes through.

"That way if I don't care that much whether or not I get my service when the network is busy. I only pay a small fee but I still get a basic service and (for the benefit of the network provider) I get comfortable with using the features.

"If it then becomes more important to me to get my data I pay more for it. Simple! Also I can budget for it and I know I am not going to get any nasty shocks at the end of the month.

"To provide a limited service for a fixed fee and charge huge amounts if you go over your prepaid limit with no means of checking how much you have used is ludicrous."

However, Philip Colmer prefers to pay for data transmitted, with some reservations.

"I'm not put off by the pay-per-volume concept - in fact I applaud it. What I am put off by is the relatively high cost.

"I'm currently paying £1 per Mbyte. If Vodafone were to reduce that to even 50p, but preferably lower, I'd be more inclined to use the service. Even so, the cost is good value for money compared with, say, accessing the Internet through a hotel phone line at 50p a minute.

"But the main reason I like the pay-per-volume concept in preference to the pay-by-time model is that it allows me to stay connected to GPRS for as long as I feel fit, without worrying about the cost. This means, for example, that I can access a Web page on my laptop and then read it at leisure, then click on a URL and all I'm paying for is the volume.

"If I were paying by time, I'd have to download the page, disconnect, read the page, click on the link and then wait for the connection to establish before the page arrived. This would be too cumbersome for most people, who would then either not use the service or would run up huge phone bills."

Rob Jones also has no objection in principle to the pay-by-volume approach. He says:

"There is even a positive side to it in that there is no incentive for the network to slug data rates to up connect times.

"What I do have a problem with is Orange enforcing a minimum quantity per month. Until I have used the system for a while I have no idea how much data I am likely to transfer."

Martin Christopher Sexton says:

"Given that the policy being adopted by all operators is based on the amount of data transferred, only the privileged few are likely to sign up for these services.

"The natural solution is, of course, to adopt a mechanism that reduces the volume of data transmitted over the network."

Which brings us to Paddy Falls, who is CEO of iOra, a specialist in reducing the cost of mobile business and remote working. He writes:

"Business agility sounds like a fine idea, a productive workforce in touch with the enterprise 24/7 - marvellous. But, as Antony Savvas points out, in reality the cost of downloading a PowerPoint presentation or document from a corporate intranet over a GPRS or 3G connection is alarming.

"This expense not only prohibits the uptake of GPRS and 3G, but also the business use of PDAs beyond simple diary and messaging tasks.

"It is surprising that people want to spend so much money on something they're going to treat as a glorified diary. PDAs continue to sell, but for the corporate market they are largely looked upon as gadgets - and dangerous gadgets at that, compromising company security and potentially leading to uncapped expense bills for lengthy downloads.

"For both laptops and PDAs to handle serious corporate applications at a reasonable cost, business users need to adopt a middle way based on offline information and compression. It's our business at iOra to make massive amounts of business information available offline to support a mobilised workforce, ie a whole intranet or portal running locally on a laptop or Pocket PC. And every time information is changed, we only send the minimum bytes of data in an ultra compressed format, rather than the whole files.

"It works and is a lot cheaper!"

Garry Thompson also believes there are cost-effective alternatives:

"Why bother with GPRS? The operators never learn! When they eventually do change the pricing structure for greater adoption, they will say the decision has been made for any other reason, rather than admit they got it wrong in the first place.

"People receive so much e-mail that it is impossible to determine how much data they will be required to download over a future period. Just that one large attachment, perhaps a PowerPoint presentation that they can't do anything with on their PDA, may be their total allocated data for the month!
"The cost of purchasing and running GPRS enabled devices and their associated PDAs can work out prohibitively expensive.
"It's much easier to get notified of any mail on the move by means of an SMS to your phone. Nearly everybody has a mobile phone, so if a company can use current technology to achieve the same end, it seems to me they are on to a winner. One company with a product like this is 2PM Technologies (see )."

As corporate infrastructure manager for Cornwall County Council, Ian Turner points out that GPRS could plug a communications gap in the region.

"I have just started to evaluate the use of GPRS, and it has tremendous potential given the lack of cable and ADSL in Cornwall - most places rely on PSTN dial-up, and for those that can afford it or create a business case for it, we can't guarantee to be able to get ISDN.

"The big downside to GPRS is the charge rate. If it were cheaper we would remove most of our telephone and ISDN dial-up links overnight."

Ramez Hayek points out that it's possible to have a choice of payment methods as Orange offers two types of data service: HSCSD, a high-speed service based on time, and GPRS, based on data volume. He says:

"Having the choice of two pricing systems and two methods of connecting for retrieval of data is more than sufficient to allow mobile users to continue to take advantage of the data capabilities of their networks without too much fuss.

"Should they be asking for more? After all, GSM services far excel their efforts of two to three years ago."

Vinit Date is concerned that "unreliable connections will probably cause things to download again and again if they aren't transmitted 100% in a single shot".

And finally Errol Rodericks says:

"The pay-by-volume approach to GPRS does put me off. It is unpredictable and will encourage content providers to pad out content to increase revenues."

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