Beginners Guide to Mobile Data

So what is GPRS all about ? - The General Packet Radio Service has been described and sold as many things such as mobile Internet or mobile Email. Though both are true, for most mobile phone users all GPRS will bring them is a slightly better WAP experience, the same content but delivered faster and charged differently. It is widely used by the network operators to provide picture messaging but this should be transparent to the users.

GPRS becomes far more useful when you use it to provide a mobile Internet connection to a computer (this could be a PC on your desk or a laptop or a PDA such as those produced by PALM, HP, Trium etc.) Suddenly you have access everywhere, to things such as Instant messaging, Email and web browsing.

Instant messaging: This is a service which provides a text equivalent of a phone call - your computer beeps and flashes up a message from a friend - you c

an then type a reply that almost instantly appears on their screen - they in turn can type messages that appear on your screen - and so on with a real time conversation.

They could be typing into their PC at home and you could be anywhere where there is a compatible GPRS network typing into a small handheld PDA. Because typing does not require much data to be transmitted it is very cheep and much more fun than the short messages everybody is using.

Email: If you are used to using Email at home or work then it is a natural extension to access it when out and about. It may be useful for personal use but invaluable for business users. Unlike messaging it is not real time so messages will be stored until you are ready to view them, delete them or reply to them. You can attach other computer files to them such a pictures or office documents but as the files get larger the cost of using the service will grow.

Web browsing: Yes - you can access the Internet over GPRS and the networks can provide an experience of similar speed to a standard modem connection to the Internet. It is not all hype as when WAP was described as 'Mobile Internet'. The apparently fast response to displaying web pages is achieved by transparently compressing the data from web sites to make them appear faster. But watch out, as the networks become congested the speed for browsing will rapidly drop - especially during the 'busy' times during the day - you are sharing a limited radio bandwidth with voice and other GPRS users. If everybody tries to make phone calls and use GPRS at the same time the speed will drop to a snails pace.

To summarize, GPRS will provide pretty much everything you are used to with a dial-up connection to the Internet, for personal users it may be fun but for business users who travel, it has to be a 'must-have'.

How mobile data is charged.

Most mobile networks only understand selling 'minutes' of airtime, but you can't do this with GPRS (and 3G data) as once you press the 'connect' button you stay connected whether you use it or not. The solution for most networks has been to charge for the data sent (to+from) your GPRS device, but who knows how much data you use or will use. Some early GPRS users on the wrong tariff have been caught out with bills ten times there normal level.

Many networks now offer fixed price bundles for Internet access which can be great value though they often have some restrictions under the guise of fair-use policies. Sometimes they restrict you to data for viewing on the device screen and outlaw connecting PCs to the mobile (tethering). A low cost data package that allows tethering is the ideal - making a viable alternative to having multiple sims - one for your phone and one for your PC. Tethering allows you to use your phone for calls and mobile broadband for your PC, and if they are connected by Bluetooth then everything is automatic and you dont have any wires!