EDGE's quiet march to market acceptance
Orange has switched on EDGE capability at 300 sites in the UK, and says it will have 1500 sites enabled by the end of the year, which corresponds to about an eigth of the network geographically. The service is the first EDGE service in the UK, and will offer enhanced speeds to users in areas which will not have 3G coverage for some time.
An Orange spokesperson said the service would not be marketed as EDGE to end-users. Instead it would be used to offer a superior experience to GPRS services in areas where 3G coverage is not considered viable or likely in the near future.
The operator currently has 5 devices which are WCDMA and EDGE capable, as well as 30 phones which are GSM/GPRS/EDGE capable.
There will be no services available on EDGE that are not available on GPRS, and no indication a user is in an area of EDGE coverage (an E symbol for instance), nor will the operator market the service as 3G-lite.
Orange has been testing EDGE throughout 2005, and is installing the network as earlier generation GSM/GPRS nodes wear out. New EDGE capable nodes, all from Nokia, are installed, and when the decision is made that it is commercially viable to do so, EDGE is switched on and integrated into the core network, and Nokia picks up its EDGE licence fee.
The spokesperson said that Orange had always considered EDGE, but that the technology had lost out a bit as its availability was so close to 3G's which has been the priority.
It now looks as if the operator has made the decision that it will be some time before some areas get 3G coverage, and it needs to offer more than GPRS in those areas.
Orange already has EDGE networks in France, Slovakia, Romania, Poland and Belgium. Europe, despite some operator resistance to EDGE, which was seen by some as an unnecessary intermediate step to 3G, now has some 70 EDGE networks, according to the Global mobile Suppliers Associations (GSA).
The GSA also said there has been a 231% growth in the number of GSM/EDGE devices on the market, reflecting operator demand for EDGE support.
There are 34 devices launched in the market which support both EDGE and WCDMA. This is a key factor supporting the global rollout of combined WCDMA-EDGE networks.
The GSA survey also identifies 10 devices, comprising 9 PC datacards and one phone, which support GSM/EDGE and WCDMA-HSDPA. This is an important point, as the majority of WCDMA operators are evolving their networks to incorporate HSDPA capabilities for delivering mobile broadband services,
which for many includes a complementary GSM/EDGE network for service continuity for the user, and the widest coverage.