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Orange goes high-speed wireless

Laptops at 28.8Kbps, phones in October

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Orange has launched the high-speed data transmission system it promised last month. According to senior product manager Adrian Dobbs: "By next Monday, every shop will have it."

What is it? Currently it's a PC card (PCMCIA; based on GSM). Shove it in your laptop and you'll get 28.8Kbps up and down, no cables, no modems, no mucking about with infra-red (and that's 90 per cent guaranteed, says Orange). It says this is as good as most fixed-line modems, which is mostly true, and three times faster than other mobile transmissions, which is true.

What about the cost? Orange isn't subsidising the cost price, so it's £299 for the card. You will also have to cough up an extra £5 a month for the service and another £5 a month of you want two mobiles on the same service. As for the cost of calls, it is cutting a "promotional" price deal so it will be the same as current mobiles (15p a minute peak, 5p off-peak).

We got a couple of demos, spoilt by the traditional crash. Email, SMS etc etc. A 72Kb picture was downloaded - we timed it - 80 seconds. So it appears to be working. Adrian was a bit too candid for his own good (which led us to believe we were among a handpicked bunch of Orange-lover journos - especially since our last article was so positive). Apparently, "IT stuff is not necessarily snazzy or exciting." We know Adrian, but don't say it at a product launch. Also, they were "having trouble connecting. Typical."

Still, this seems to backup an underlying confidence that Orange is ahead of the game. In fact, over the course of the meet-up, it dawned that the only thing Orange thinks is holding it back is everyone else. The network was ready in March, Adrian assures us - it was only Nokia that couldn't supply the phones so it had to leave it until now. The videophone we had a quick look at was developed by Orange itself because "every manufacturer we spoke to said it was impossible. Now they are all emailing us". It is, incidentally, the "dog's bollocks" and is "actually driving Microsoft".

Vodafone and Cellnet are out of the picture on high-speed because they just don't have the capacity. One2One do, but, er, it hasn't got the know-how.

At one point, unannounced, top man Hans Snook slinks in and stands at the side. Adrian doesn't flinch. "I just came to listen in," says Hans later. Either Orange is run through with relaxed confidence or it is doing an excellent impression of it.

But enough of that, back to the data access. These promotional prices will stand until Orange chucks out its GPRS service. Right, things could get complicated here, so we'll summarise:


  • High-speed access (HSCSD), announced today, gives 28.8Kbps both ways. This is great for real-time stuff - streaming pics and sound, fluctuating data.
  • GPRS, ready around about Christmas, is more for solid, bite-size data ie your email, SMS, that sort of thing.

Orange's big plan is to get people used to fancy mobiles before the much-vaulted 3G phones kick in. And so it is subsidising the calls for this high-speed access to get people involved. It actually costs Orange double its cost price to run high-speed, and so when GPRS comes out December-ish time, those calls will start climbing and average Joe will go for the GPRS.

From here, Orange is working on a card that includes both HSCSD and GPRS. This will available in 12 months. And from this point to 3G phones (who knows? Two years away?) will be a fairly simple transition. High-speed access on a phone will be available in October with the launch of the Nokia 6210.

So, all in all, what do we think? Well, for the second time, we are pro-Orange. Its plan is well thought-out, logical and intelligent. It doesn't jump the gun and it produces what it says it will, when it said it would - a marked difference from many companies in the mobile "space". That said, we forewarn Orange now that we will be scrutinising it even closer in the future. It's not in our nature to be nice. ®

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