Operators wake up to data-only GPRS services

An Alpha Micro Components product story
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Edited by the Electronicstalk editorial team Aug 31, 2004

After years of focusing their attentions on consumer voice applications, GPRS network operators are finally recognising the importance of machine-to-machine (M2M) data-only applications.

After years of focusing their attentions on consumer voice applications, GPRS network operators are finally recognising the importance of machine-to-machine (M2M) data-only applications.

UK-based Alpha Micro Components believes this is an important step forward for wireless communications.

Just two years ago, it was virtually impossible to purchase a data-only GPRS SIM card.

All of the network operators were too busy pushing GPRS services such as video messaging to the consumer voice markets.

For many years, Alpha Micro Components, a UK-based value added reseller of electronic components, has been championing the suitability of GPRS technology for data-only industrial applications.

Finally, it appears that some of the UK's largest phone operators have opened their eyes to the possibilities that machine-to-machine (M2M) communications can offer.

Christos Papakyriacou, Managing Director, Alpha Micro Components, explains: "GPRS is not being fully utilised by electronics companies or network operators".

"Either it scares people who think it is too difficult to install, or it is mistakenly oversimplified as something that just enables mobile phones to send pictures or video".

"Both of these assumptions are incorrect".

"It is not just people who can communicate over GPRS, but also machines".

"With the right infrastructure and supporting equipment, GPRS can be very cost-effective and simple to install".

An example of how GPRS can be used for M2M communication is through embedding GPRS modems into point-of-sale equipment such as credit card transaction terminals.

Transaction validations involve the exchange of small amounts of data, which GPRS can easily handle.

It allows the terminal to be fully mobile instead of tied to a telephone line and unlike current dial-up modems, GPRS is always on, allowing constant and quick communication.

Point of sale terminals are just one of the many M2M applications which can benefit from GPRS.

In the past, network operators have not been able to see the benefits of providing data-only SIM cards.

The data service was always tied onto the back of voice SIM cards, giving the impression to customers that using data-only GPRS is expensive.

In actual fact, a monthly subscription to a data-only SIM card works out roughly half the price of voice.

The general education of the market and development of supporting technology has seen GPRS become more widely accepted and not something to fear.

Now almost all of the major network operators offer data-only SIMs.

Vodafone, one of the UK's largest mobile phone operators, is one of the operators to acknowledge the importance of wireless data-only communication.

Vodafone has set up a dedicated team in the UK to establish a strategy for developing the use of data-only services.

Alpha Micro predicts that it won't take long for the other network operators to see the opportunities.

Currently, Vodafone is already offering data-only devices, helping them move into vertical sectors such as electronic point of sale, where payments are securely authorised via connection with the Vodafone network.

Alpha Micro Components is at the forefront of embedding GPRS capabilities into M2M applications and has developed a comprehensive range of embedded and external modem modules based on technology from the French manufacturer, Sagem.

Papakyriacou is predicting a significant increase in the M2M wireless communications sector over the next 18 months and although he welcomes the operators' increasing acceptance of data-only GPRS, he feels there is one more important step for them to make: fixed IP addresses.

"Fixed IP addresses radically simplify two-way communication, which is essential for remote management applications".

"By giving a machine in the field, such as a vending machine, a fixed IP address effectively means you always have a direct path to contact that machine and interrogate it".

"You can also send it a message to 'wake up' and start communicating back".

"I am sure it is only a matter of time before the network operators offer fixed IP addresses as part of their data-only GPRS offerings".

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