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GPRS vs GSM data
Posted on 19-Jan-2003 12:38 by Alastair Foster | Filed under: Articles

I often wonder whether anyone has asked the question of what we have gained from the emergence of GPRS. If I were to put this question to any GPRS user, I would be told that speed and cost are the two areas of benefit. When one considers the existence of high speed circuit switched data, differing numbers of GPRS timeslots and effects of available network capacity, the speed issue is a technical minefield for which I intend to plant my fingers in my ears and sing a happy tune until UMTS makes the issue redundant.

The cost issue is a far more interesting beast. When I was trialling GPRS a couple of months ago, I was paying NZ$10 per month for a quota of 3Mb. Using this solely for access to WAP and email, I was surprised at how much mileage I got out of my 3Mb, but for many users who intend to use mobile data services for access to the web or shuffling around large files, the cost could be prohibitive. The question is whether traditional circuit switched GSM data would be any cheaper. Sadly, we have a classic apples and oranges situation here and the answer will depend largely on the needs of the individual.

However, there is one solid conclusion that we can draw: those who intend to use mobile data at off peak times may benefit from using GSM data at such times. My logic here relates to ‘free minutes’ which are offered with a number of Vodafone calling plans. If one opts for a plan which offers free minutes at peak times, it would be uneconomical to use these free minutes for GSM data, since their per-minute cost (calculated by dividing the monthly access fee by the number of free minutes offered) would be unlikely to match the standard per-minute peak GSM data price which, as I recall, works out at NZ$0.39 per minute. The per-minute cost of off peak minutes, on the other hand, can potentially better the standard off-peak GSM data rate.

Of course, life is never as simple as we would like it to be. The costs associated with idle time, time spent dialling up, and lower speed may rightfully cause some users to frown apon GSM data. Rest assured, though, the axe will not fall upon GSM data until UMTS rears its head. For now, choose your mobile data solution carefully.


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