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GPRS roaming tops agenda at Rome summit

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Extending the availability of GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) roaming services has become a key focus for a GSM Association meeting in Rome next week.

It's hoped the 47th Plenary Meeting of members of the GSM Association, which will take place between April 16-18, will provide the ideal forum for the negotiation of roaming agreements between operators. A set of meeting rooms have been booked at the conference to facilitate this Roamfest (bad pun courtesy GSM Association).

As operators roll out GPRS networks around the world, the GSM Association is keen to promote the deployment of robust, interoperable wireless data services toward the level of international ubiquity that exists for today's GSM services. The current lack of such agreements diminishes the value of GPRS services, particularly for business users. In addition, roaming has been plagued by technical issues.

Sophie York, an analyst at telecoms consultancy Ovum, said GPRS roaming agreements are few and far between, with numerous gaps in the coverage available.

Asia is more advanced in rolling out the technology, but in Europe only Vodafone, (which began the roll out of the facility last month through its European subsidiaries) Telia and Sonera are among the few operators who have made the facility available. The US is even further behind Europe in GPRS roaming.

There are both technical and commercial reasons for the lack of GPRS roaming.

Although the technology to equip networks to allow GPRS roaming is available, it is still in its infancy and somewhat complex, resulting in many teething troubles for early adopters. Signing agreements is also taking time, and billing for roaming services (between operators and to customers) remains a thorny issue. ®

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