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Vodafone has signed deals with the world's top hardware manufacturers to have the mobile operator's GPRS settings pre-installed on laptops and PDAs.

The agreement has been concluded with equipment manufacturers Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Psion Teklogix and Toshiba. The new initiative, which the operator has dubbed "Connected by Vodafone," will affect devices such as notebooks, PDAs and Tablet PCs. All 'Connected by Vodafone' devices will be tested, configured and supported by the hardware suppliers.

"This announcement is really good news for the industry and removes another barrier to the adoption of mobile data services," said Simon Buckingham, managing director of UK-based research and consultancy Mobile Streams. "It isn't until all GPRS-enabled devices work straight out of the box, that you're going to see the development of a mass-market for mobile data."

Indeed, according to a Vodafone survey released earlier this month, the two main obstacles to the adoption of GPRS mobile data solutions in the past have been security concerns and the perceived complexity of installing the system.

A spokesperson for Vodafone told ElectricNews.Net that the service would be initially launched in Vodafone's UK, German, Spanish and Italian divisions and would be launched in Ireland in the spring.

Buckingham said that a number of operators are carrying out similar initiatives and predicted that all mobile operators would soon have their settings pre-installed on mobile devices.

O2 meanwhile, which is Vodafone's main competitor in Ireland, also has agreements with hardware manufactures, following a group of deals announced in February. However, O2's service is only available to large corporations and products with pre-installed O2 software must be specially ordered.

Connected by Vodafone is the second Vodafone business-focused initiative launched in recent weeks. On November 19 the company launched 'Remote Access,' a GPRS service that allows business customers to connect to their corporate LAN to access e-mail, calendar and other business applications from remote locations. Remote Access is currently available to customers in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden and is scheduled for release in Ireland by early in 2003.

Because GPRS provides "always-on" connectivity, users of the service are charged for the amount of data they transfer, rather than the length of a call. Although the company's 'Remote Access' product could download large files, the charging structure for GRPS makes the cost of doing so prohibitive for most users. Access to e-mail, messaging and Internet-based back office systems the main selling points of business-focused GPRS.

The launch of 'Connected by Vodafone' also follows the roll out of the company's latest consumer service, Vodafone Live, which is based on a similar business model. Vodafone Live is the company's suite of consumer data applications, including MMS, Java games, location-based services and downloadable ringtones, with links to these services pre-installed and available only on a special Vodafone-branded handset.

© ENN

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