First there was WAP, a cut-down version of standard HTML that produces pages which are more limited but simpler and therefore quicker to transfer. WAP is charged on a per-second basis whether or not the user is actually sending or receiving; it also ties up the line.

GPRS provides an always-on enhancement to existing networks that is 2-3 times faster than normal GSM data rates (typically 26-52kbps) and considerably more reliable. That’s fast enough to make WAP browsing a less painful experience, though it’s not really good enough for fully-loaded web pages. Users are charged only when information is actually sent or received, on the basis of kilobytes of data transferred.

UMTS (aka W-CDMA) is the technology for 3G services – with the ability to handle a simultaneous mix of services (including Internet access) at speeds of 384kbps or faster. And HSDPA will allow operators to boost data speeds – typically three times better than current 3G and over 40 times faster than GPRS. The immediate applications are super-fast audio and video downloads and streaming, but internet will also get near-instant access. You could even use your mobile as a broadband-speed modem for a laptop. 2006 will be the year of HSDPA in the UK; all the big operators are promised second-half launches.

RULE OF THUMB One megabyte = 500 WAP pages = 20 web pages = 25 emails with a one-page Word document attached = one email with a PowerPoint presentation attached.

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