Whatever happened to the general packet radio service, or GPRS, revolution? The 2001 holiday season was to be the first period in which all the top handset makers offered phones for the data-friendly service. European networks were supposedly in place, though phones came out a little later than some grumbling carrier CEOs would've liked. And North American wireless carriers were rolling out the service several cities at a time. Everything seemed to be falling into place to woo consumers back to the cell-phone kiosk to replace their old bread-and-butter Nokia with a jazzy new device that was small, had good battery life and could send and receive data at healthy speeds. Or so it seemed. In reality, Europe is still getting its networks up to snuff, working on the types of glitches that plague all new technologies. North America still lacks full coverage from any carrier. Nor is there a marketing push to convince consumers that they need phones that can send and receive messages and data. Reporting its fourth-quarter results, mobile-phone market leader Nokia ( NOK) only vaguely described the millions of GPRS units it shipped in 2001 and nebulously referred to solid market share in the fourth quarter. Motorola ( MOT) expected to ship 5 million GPRS-capable phones in 2001, but fell short with just 4.1 million shipped by year's end. The handset supplier said it finished 2001 with 2.4 million more phones on order from 20 carriers, and attributed the slowdown in GPRS orders to a decline in GSM phone purchases from its customers.
"Europe is the primary market, and it's just not happening," says Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown's Brian Modoff of GPRS. "In our view, carriers will be taking this year to fix it, which is discouraging, since carriers knew GPRS was coming since 1999."