By Martin Vedris

SYDNEY: Free and fast mobile internet access anywhere is the promise of the new PocketSurfer2 handheld device which operates on the GPRS protocol and will initially be retailed through the Dick Smith group of stores and Leading Edge Telecoms for RRP $399.

“We do one thing and we do it well,” said DataWind’s Derek Kopke, vice president, sales for the PocketSurfer2, at the press launch of the product today.

High speed mobile internet browsing anywhere there is GPRS mobile phone reception, free of WiFi hotspots, with some free browsing time included in the purchase price, is all that this product is designed for.

“We made the decision not to do a phone or a multi function device … it’s in our road map to add additional features but making it into a phone is not part of the plan,” said Kopke.

DSE Holdings’ product manager cellular and broadband, Nick Klay, has backed the product and will stock it in his company’s Dick Smith Electronics, Power House and Tandy stores.

“When they approached me and told me they had a high speed mobile internet device on GPRS I said I wasn’t interested,” Klay said. “But they persisted and when they showed me the PocketSurfer2 I couldn’t believe how fast it was and there is nothing else out there that offers mobile internet that fast with free browsing time and without locking consumers into contracts.”

Consumers who buy the PocketSurfer2 from DataWind will receive 20 hours of free internet access per month with no limit on downloads. Although the device itself does not actually download the data and has no storage capacity.

The PocketSurfer2 is essentially a thin client that connects to servers located in Canada which actually download the page content and transmit a compressed version of each page to the PocketSurfer2. This solution allows pages to be opened in “seven seconds or less” according to a company statement from the product’s developer, Datawind, a Canadian company specialising in wireless web access products and services.

The PocketSurfer2 also has no sound and does not allow video streaming because that would limit the speeds and does not fit into the server and client solution. However the core purpose of this product is to allow users fast internet access anywhere, free of WiFi hotspots and free of contracts and if they stay under 20 hours access per month, they pay nothing for their browsing for the first year. At this stage there is a proposed fee of $50 per year for 20 hours browsing after the first 12 months, however DataWind aim to make that free as well by using advertising, such as on toolbars, to subsidise usage.

Consumers who want more browsing time can pay $9.99 per month for 50 hours per month usage or for $19.99 per month they can have unlimited internet access on this device.

The product has the capability to remotely connect to a PC and access files, there is also access to a site that allows 25 GB of online storage. Users can also use online application services such as Google Apps that have online word processors, spreadsheets and calendars.

The PocketSurfer has GPS location information that connects to Google maps offering maps and directions. It has a lithium polymer battery offering five hours battery life for active usage and five days standby and it has a mini USB charger. The products also has a backlit QWERTY keyboard, it weights 172 grams and measures 152 x 75 x 15 mm.

Vodafone is supplying the mobile infrastructure to provide the service and its Australian business wholesale partner, Virtel, brokered the deal.

EFTel, which is one of Australia’s largest Internet Service Providers, was appointed the regional distributor Australia and Oceania for the PocketSurfer2.

“It’s a little bit unusual in that we’re not a hardware mover, traditionally, the only hardware we’ve sold in the past is modems,” said EFTel General Manager, John Lane.

"But it’s an opportunity we took up because it’s such a unique product and it is a product which ultimately is an internet access end user device and we supply internet access to end users.”

Lane said that his company is in the process of building the distribution channels.

“We’ve got over 140,000 active accounts and certainly there’s a market there for it. We have a large reseller program and we also wholesale already to about 25 per cent of Australia’s ISP’s through our wholesale business which is DFT wholesale Internet.

“We secured the national and regional distributorship, the second step was to find a few major retailers who would carry it and pull it through the channel, there are also other large retailers who are going to carry it but didn’t have quick enough processes to get it in for Christmas, so their orders will be coming through in the New Year.

“We will be introducing it to our wholesale market early in the New Year and our reseller channel, which is computer and telecoms retailers who already resell EFTel internet products.”