European managers expect higher mobile speeds to build better customer relationships — and vendors say this is imminent. But rollout will occur slowly and unevenly, forcing firms to adopt these new technologies in stages. In a new Report, Forrester Research B.V. (Nasdaq: FORR) outlines how companies must act on new mobile opportunities to serve customers better, strengthen ties with partners, and boost internal productivity while hedging their bets on shaky technologies.

“Hype from vendors like Nokia and operators like Orange says that European firms will get 2 Mbps speeds on mobile devices and connect anywhere at anytime — all by 2002,” explains Lars Godell, analyst for Forrester Research B.V. “The reality is that gradual, uneven bandwidth upgrades will creep along through 2007 and only city areas will see 2 Mbps speeds by 2007.”

Forrester believes that Europe’s high-speed mobile future will be enabled by a series of new mobile network technologies like General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). These technologies will transform the way corporations serve customers, reach business partners, and communicate internally — but only after they are widely standardized and implemented.

“To increase mobile speeds and global connectivity, new technologies are being developed, including always-on packet-switched connections and Bluetooth, a short-range radio technology that allows high-speed communication between devices and networks,” added Godell. “The benefits these technologies offer will arrive later than promised for a number of reasons, mainly because operators will not be able to justify the huge investments needed to build an entirely new mobile network. Shaky standards and incompatible handsets will also give early adopters a bumpy ride.”

Forrester believes that only technologies requiring minimal upgrades to existing networks and handsets, like High-Speed Circuit Switched Data (HSCSD), GPRS, and Bluetooth, will see widespread adoption before 2005. Operators and firms that adopt HSCSD this year will enjoy first-mover advantages, while riskier network technologies like Enhanced Data Rate for GSM Evolution (EDGE) will fade away, and UMTS will arrive late.

With a patchwork of high-speed mobile standards persisting over the next seven years, European firms face a dilemma. If they act too late, they will miss opportunities to mobilize business processes and reach customers in new ways. If they act too soon, they risk being burned by premature commitments to immature technologies. To cope, firms must match mobile data projects to technology realities in three stages. Firms should start in 2000 by experimenting and laying the groundwork.

For the Report “Mobile’s High-Speed Hurdles,” Forrester spoke with 47 corporate IT managers as well as 46 mobile operators, telecommunications equipment suppliers, software houses, and systems integrators. When asked when they will roll out high-speed mobile data services as part of their business, 53% of executives interviewed said that it would depend on market readiness, while 19% said that they might not use it.