The Isle of Man is making a play for the title of first ever functioning 3G mobile network, but as we understand it, it will be a rather drab affair. The tiny island - most famous for the TT motorbike races that take place there each year - has its own government and most importantly in this case, its own telecoms company, Manx Telecom.
It is these boys that plan to get the network ready by the end of May (in time for the races). Eleven of them have been working flat out to get the network ready, according to Reuters. Manx Telecom is at a distinct advantage over mobile companies on the mainland since it has no competition, didn't have to fork out millions for a licence and only has to cover an area of 31 miles by 14 miles.
In fact, BT (which owns Manx Telecom) is using the island as a test-bed and is planning a big press launch to advertise the network. Vodafone, meanwhile, has just announced it has managed a phone call in west London.
The project is being run in conjunction with WAP gateway company Infinite. The companies already have a UMTS network up and have made both voice and data calls over it, although the actual bandwidth reached is not known. There will be 10 base stations, giving 70 per cent coverage (foot and mouth preventing a 100 per cent coverage, according to Manx Telecom).
However, according to someone in the know, the launch may not run as smoothly as they hope. BT has, according to our source, done everything above the network layer on the cheap, opening the way for a huge crash of the system. Gameplay was supposed to be providing the demo's game content but seeing as it is currently up for sale, this is looking less and less likely.
The phones themselves will apparently be sold in shops (for an undisclosed sum) but a number will be given out free. NEC is supplying them. They are a modified version of its iMode phone but with a larger, colour screen. It uses a WAP browser rather than CHTML. Only three phones have arrived so far but BT is keeping its options open by also ordering a phone from Sony (possibly the first tie-in with Ericsson).
On the technical side, BT has gone for a patching job rather than try to implement the latest technology. Rather than going with IP6, it is following the path of the latest WAP phones and has gone for IP4 with UDP as a control layer, bringing with it WAP problems. The video-on-demand aspect is "a bag of shite" - slow and simplistic - and they have not managed to get the much-vaulted location service, developed by Siemens, working (fair ye well p-commerce).
But enough of this negativity (reality?). Manx Telecom is working very hard on the network and we applaud them for it. It won't work very well of course, but if anything helps other mobile companies get their act together, it can only be a good thing.
Why do we get the feeling that 3G may be WAP hype mark II? ®