Written by: Jason Hovet
Photo by: Petr Poliak
With fast-moving business professionals being offered more tools and better technologies to stay in touch, who really needs to go to the office anymore?
THE LAST YEAR saw some long-anticipated technological upgrades, but, as many hope, this was only the beginning. For one, in early August, Eurotel stepped into new ground becoming the first Czech operator to offer an unlimited, high-speed internet connection using the latest CDMA technology. Freeing itself from GPRS, the new technology – with an indecipherable full name of CDMA 20001xEV-DO – operates on a 450 MHz frequency, of which Eurotel is the sole license holder in the country. The result: the fastest (around 250 kbs) wireless internet access in the Czech Republic, reaching 70% of the population, who now have unlimited downloading capabilities, all for a flat fee of CZK 899 per month, not including VAT.
Thus far, public response has been rather favorable. By the end of September, Eurotel already had 10,000 customers for the service – offered under the Eurotel Data Express package. “People’s interest in the Eurotel Data Express service surpassed our expectations, and it proves our identification of the development in the wireless market was correct,” says Michal Heřman, Eurotel’s acting CEO and managing director.
Not surprisingly, not everyone is happy. T-Mobile is currently appealing to the European Commission to examine the decision to grant Eurotel the only CDMA license. “People in sparsely populated regions, which need a quick connection to the Internet the most, could be in the hands of a Eurotel monopoly,” warns T-Mobile chief, Roland Mahler. According to Eurotel, it’s more of a technological question. It holds that the characteristics of signal spreading and limited bandwith are the reasons for its sole license. From this perspective, the company claims, it would be impossible for more operators to offer voice and data services in this band at the same time.
For its part, T-Mobile thinks it has found a few chinks in the armor and is in the testing phases of a competing technology – EDGE (Enhanced Data for GPRS Evolution) – that is run on the existing GPRS system, which has a nearly 99% penetration level. Set for launch on December 1, according to Martina Kem-rová, T-Mobile’s external communication manager, the new high-speed wireless technology stacks up pretty well against CDMA, despite its obvious disadvantages. “We cannot compete with speed,” she admits. “But with EDGE, you need only your mobile phone [for access].” Indeed, Eurotel’s new technology requires a separate USB modem, at a price of CZK 8,995 (including VAT) for the hardware package, and is also not compatible with existing GPRS systems.
Head to head, analysts have already been anticipating EDGE’s launch. One analyst, Martin Zikmund, writing on Mobilmania.cz, was one of the first to put both technologies to the test. He, too, found CDMA’s speed to be superior, but was not disappointed with EDGE. In his opinion, as long as T-Mobile offered its service at a lower price, the price-to-performance ratio of both services would be quite similar.
Handset makers also have a small stake in these developments, and for them EDGE will certainly have the biggest effect. “We welcome every new technology that helps people to communicate,” says Robert Fleischhacker, head of Sony Ericsson’s Czech offices. “We don’t expect CDMA to have any impact on our business. But, of course, we welcome the EDGE system.” Already, he says, they have new phones to support the technology which will soon be on the market, including the Z500i.
And where is Oskar in all of this? It too wants to see the CDMA frequency accessible to all. “We think that all operators on the market should have the right to access CDMA,” says Oskar spokesman, Petr Šindler. He adds that otherwise, “it’s to our disadvantage.” At the moment, the company is weighing its options in faster internet access, and within its own offices is testing the EDGE technology that T-Mobile will be using. “This is all about demand,” Šindler says, adding that while they plan to add the service next year, he’s not sure demand is there among Oskar’s key customer group: small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).
That demand may be growing, and in sales of notebooks, SMEs are playing a part. “The majority of growth is in smaller companies,” says Dell’s marketing director, Vít Šubert. “These companies are starting to see more value in notebooks.” This is confirmed by Miroslav Doubrava, country manager for Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) personal systems group. “SME is an important part of the current and potential market,” he says. And the new technologies will only accelerate this, both men agree. “Faster internet access will open up new market opportunities and speed up connection for other areas,” Doubrava says. “Easy and comfortable Internet access will generate more demand for notebooks, tablet PCs, and PDAs.” According to Dell’s Šubert, with this newer technology a computer should be less than three years old for optimal use.
Handhelds are also gaining popularity. “It allows you to be more mobile,” says Dell’s Šubert. Dell’s top offer is a 624 MHz Axim X30, which supports Bluetooth technology to move freely between wireless networks and LAN. Equally fast, HP recently started offering an updated iPAQ Pocket PC, the hx4700, which also supports Bluetooth and LAN.
But some of the most mobile executives may wait until early next year – when the famed BlackBerry handheld should be available. T-Mobile, for one, is currently offering selected customers trial use, and in the first quarter next year will be selling the BlackBerry 7230, which gives users real-time email access. “BlackBerry is not a typical mass market product but a sophisticated solution for corporate clients,” says spokesman for T-Mobile Jiří Hájek, who expects mainly multinational business customers to be the first to sign up. BlackBerry handhelds, which work in the CDMA system, combine phone, SMS, browser and organizer applications, as well as technology that allows emails and other data to automatically be sent to the handheld. Many are already anticipating its arrival, and Hájek says, “We see a big potential in BlackBerry services.”
Not to be outdone, Siemens’ first phone with email management using BlackBerry built-in technology – the SK65 – was scheduled for a November release at time of press. A qwerty keyboard allows messages to be written quickly. (BlackBerry technology, developed by the Canadian Research In Motion Limited [RIM], has been leased to other handset makers.) Similarly, Nokia’s new 9500 Communicator model (which was also scheduled for 4th quarter launch at press time) features a full keyboard and supports all the latest technologies.
The total package
Not to be lost among all these technological improvements, though, is internet access using the WiFi network. Available at so-called HotSpots around the country, operators have been busy expanding the network since its initial offering in 2002. Getting help from parent company Český Telecom, Eurotel currently has the largest network with a planned number of 163 access points around the Czech Republic-points are typically in hotels, business centers, conference halls and shopping centers, as well as other selected areas. T-Mobile was next to offer this connection. “We started with about 10 HotSpots a year ago,” Kemrová says. “Now there are more than 50.” She also points out that through the company’s international network, customers will have access at more than 15,000 spots around the world by the end of the year, including in Germany, Austria, Great Britain and the United States.
|What business wants
Corporate customers – from small to large – are definitely valuable customers and are becoming even more so. But what do they really want for their staff’s mobility?
Most companies, especially smaller ones, are looking mainly at the bottom line when it comes to corporate packages. For Oskar, this has meant more demand for its Flexi Limit package. “Cost control is definitely something customers like,” says Oskar spokesman, Petr Šindler. The service basically is a warning system – using SMS – to keep users from exceeding their usage limit. Another popular draw for Oskar customers is the MobilEdit software, which is part of the Switchers Took Kit. With this new software, users can connect their mobiles to their computer in order to receive or send SMSs, as well as telephone calls. The most valuable feature, according to Šindler, is that you can also store any information from a mobile or SIM card onto the computer. “Everybody thinks about backing up a computer,” Šindler says, “but not many people think of backing up a telephone.”
|Numbers on the go
Soon business may be a little easier. Currently, firms are nickeled-and-dimed by having to redo company business cards, promo materials, stationary, and other things that add up when their number changes. But planned mobile number portability would remedy that.
“PORTABILITY will be welcomed particularly by business customers, for who changes in telephone numbers are connected with higher costs,” says Viktor Mulač, a senior consultant at Capgemini. Portability is the simple promise of one mobile number forever. Sounds easy, but the Czech Republic is one of the remaining countries without the service. Now the country is set to join pending approval of a draft electronic communications act. Once that happens, the act will go into effect 1 Jan 2005, at which point the Czech Telecommunications Office will be in charge of implementing the system.
|A mobile marketplaceWhile voice services still make up the bulk of mobile operators’ turnover, content services are becoming more important. Ringtones and games are currently fashionable fads, but soon telephones will be used for more practical reasons.
One example is T-Mobile’s M-payment system. Introduced in 1999, it initially was used to, for example, buy a soft drink from a machine or fill up at petrol stations. This never caught on, so the program was revamped to offer online shopping. However, T-Mobile has developed a strong partnership with Annonce, the classified paper, for clients to secure ad space through their telephone. According to Martina Kemrová, the external communication manager at T-Mobile, the service sees “thousands of transactions a month,” but its popularity has been hindered by the current payment method, which is billed through prepaid cards or monthly invoices.