Eircell unrolls new service


Eircell Vodafone introduced the State's first commercial "next generation" mobile phone service yesterday following a lengthy delay caused by a shortage of handsets. The service, based on general packet radio service (GPRS) or 2.5G technology, will initially target corporate customers before it is made available to consumers next month.

The €100 million (£79 million) investment will enable users to connect to the internet at speeds faster than currently possible. They will also be able to remain connected without incurring extra charges.

A complex new pricing structure has been developed to charge for 2.5G services based on the amount of data downloaded to a mobile or laptop computer rather than the duration of a call. Roughly one megabyte downloaded is equivalent to viewing 30 Web pages or 500 WAP pages.

Corporate customers in the Republic will have a choice of two pricing plans for Eircell's GPRS services. The Eircell 5 price plan will offer firms a monthly rental fee of €5, with a standard charge of €5 per megabyte downloaded. Eircell 20 includes a monthly rental fee of €20 and a price per megabyte of €2. Irish firms will pay more for the new service than customers using Vodafone's equivalent GPRS service in the UK. Vodafone UK offers customers a monthly rental of €16 and a download price of €1.6 per megabyte.

Users will also have to invest in new mobile handsets or GPRS enabled personal digital assistants, which will cost between €159 and €349. Eircell will have five available handsets at the outset. Its new chief executive, Mr Paul Donovan, blamed the lack of available mobile handsets for the slow launch of GPRS in the Republic.

Yesterday's launch was notable for its caution when compared to other mobile technology launches such as the ill-fated WAP service. The over-hyped WAP service, which promised the "internet in your pocket", proved to be a dismal failure for network operators, with low take-up rates.

Eircell's claim that its new GPRS service will offer connection speeds of up to 40 kilobytes per second is conservative. This is not much above the speeds available using Eircell's existing high speed data product and considerably below claims by analysts that GPRS should be able to offer speeds of more than 100 kilobytes per second.