"The wireless Internet -- which to date has been heavy on hype and short on substance -- will soon cross a technology threshold in Hong Kong when wireless carriers begin rolling out upgraded networks featuring always-on packet switching technology.
"Called GPRS, for General Packet Radio Service, the technology is an interim step before carriers using the GSM standard migrate to higher-capacity third-generation, or 3G technology, over the next few years.
"Also known as 2.5G, GPRS is faster than current technology and features always-on capability that is expected to make wireless Internet access faster and easier to use.
"Current wireless Internet offerings using a programming language called WAP, or wireless application protocol, have met with muted customer response -- in part because of slow access and because users must dial-in each time they wish to use it, industry sources say.
"Some critics also complain that current WAP-based content is underwhelming, as are WAP-enabled handsets.
"But always-on packet switching -- which provides for more efficient transmission of data by breaking it into pieces and sending it via the quickest route -- is expected to remove a key hurdle to the development of the wireless Internet.
"... Hong Kong mobile carriers, including SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings , Sunday and the Hutchison Telecom unit of Hutchison Whampoa have said they plan to offer GPRS service beginning later this year -- although a dearth of handsets could put a brake on wide rollout until early next year, some in the industry warn.