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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MTS Joins Wireless Web Race

The race to bring high-speed wireless Internet access to Russia is on.

One of the country’s leading cellular operators, Mobile TeleSystems, together with global giant Motorola, announced Tuesday the launch of General Packet Radio Service — a high-speed mobile data network based on Motorola’s own GSM dual-band network.

The use of Motorola’s technology will allow MTS to offer its subscribers improved service via high-speed access to the Internet and mobile data transfer. The company intends to hold trials later this month, followed by a commercial launch scheduled for December.

MTS’s corporate clients, which include Coca-Cola and Hewlett-Packard, will be using Motorola Timeport handsets during the trial period, with the packet data services expected to be made available to all MTS subscribers as of December.

In its press release, MTS claimed that its introduction of GPRS marked not only a first for the company, but for the country as well in terms of mobile phone services.

In February, however, Vimpelcom, MTS’s chief rival, signed an agreement with Finnish cellphone giant Nokia to provide a similar technology to its subscribers, which it began testing in July.

Mikhail Umarov, spokesman for Bee Line, the trademark under which Vimpelcom sells its cellular products, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that trials are going well and the company expects to provide general-use coverage of up to 90 percent by the end of the month.

MTS said the decision to join forces with Motorola was an obvious one, as Motorola, via its alliance with Cisco Systems, is the only cellular communication provider with operational worldwide commercial GPRS networks.

Motorola/Cisco GPRS technology, employing Motorola handsets, has been instrumental in launching the GPRS services of BT Cellnet in Britain and T-Mobil in Germany.

MTS’s chief officers, including its technology and development vice president, Yury Gromakov, are confident that the company’s cooperation with Motorola "will allow the Russian GSM operator to implement GPRS services on its cellular network within a very short timeframe."

Gene O’Rourke, vice president and regional general manager of Motorola’s Global Telecoms Solutions Sector, said he was enthusiastic about working with MTS on the project.

"Mobile phone users in Russia will soon start using some of the latest wireless services made available thanks to the new technology," O’Rourke said.

Some industry analysts, however, warn that the companies have little evidence to draw on for such optimism, basing their predictions on a small number of pilot projects like those in Britain and Germany.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ari Krel, an analyst at United Financial Group, said the project is "a good move for MTS, although it’s still very early," adding that the proposed launch target for December sounded "reasonable."

What the technology boils down to is providing subscribers constant access to the Internet, including e-mail, so long as they are equipped with GPRS wireless application protocol handsets and PC notebooks.

WAP handsets, according to Krel, cost two to three times more than regular cellular phones, which typically set subscribers back $350 to $400. Krel said he expects, however, that as economies of scale kick in — assuming they become a mass-market product — prices for the handsets will fall.

Currently, 2,000 WAP handsets are in the hands of MTS subscribers, although analysts expect waiting lists for the units to form once the technology proves itself. The system offers many advantages: rendering dialups to Internet providers obsolete, removing disruptions when switching between calls and data transmissions (via the use of the Motorola handsets), and the convenience of a handset capable of browsing WAP sites that use wireless markup language.

One of the key bonuses of the new technology, however, remains the sheer speed of data transmission. Whereas regular GSM offers a data transfer rate of 9.6 kilobytes per second, GPRS can perform the same task at speeds of up to 27 Kbps — a rate that is expected to climb in the future.