Amazon's Kindle e-book reader will apparently be launched in the UK by Christmas, complete with a virtual network operator and GSM compatibility.
The news comes from Mobile Today, who reckon Amazon is about to finalise a launch date, but has been having trouble finding a network operator prepared to host the Kindle's Whispernet connections which make the device so unique in the marketplace.
Whispernet is basically a mobile phone connection, data only, via which the Kindle downloads electronic magazines and books - but the existing Kindle models are using Sprint's US network, which is CDMA-based. Kindle users know nothing about that, of course; Amazon pays Sprint and the user just pays for the books or periodicals to which they've subscribed.
In Europe all our mobile phones use GSM technology, so an existing Kindle simply won't work on this side of the pond, which is why we haven't seen it until now despite vague statements from Amazon about European aspirations.
Getting GSM connectivity into the Kindle isn't trivial, but Mobile Today suggests that Qualcomm is directly involved in the production of a UK model of the Kindle. Qualcomm already runs the back end for Whispernet in the US, including handling the billing between Amazon and Sprint, but the company also has its Gobi chipset - a single chipset that can support both CDMA and GSM technologies, including 3G, and could enable a cross-Atlantic Kindle to exist.
Then there's the question of the SIM: all GSM devices have a removable SIM, but getting one into the Kindle would mean a changed industrial design (which would be expensive) and increased complexity. In the USA T-Mobile has been talking about embedding SIMs into GSM devices, tying them permanently to one network and one number, but such a device would not be considered "GSM Compatible" in Europe - though the rules could probably be bent if necessary.
Amazon would certainly like to see the Kindle on UK shelves, and if it can get a GSM variant built then there's no technical reason why it shouldn't, but using Qualcomm's Gobi would give it a single model that could be used around the world, and perhaps even on US networks other than Sprint. ®