After repeated delays, Microsoft is finally ready to ship its Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 software, formerly codenamed Stinger, in the coming weeks. But mobile phones based on the software may not appear for up to six months after its release.

"The smartphone [software] is going to be released literally any day now," said Roberto Cazzaro, international director at Microsoft's Mobility Division. "It's a question of weeks."

Although Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 is nearly ready to ship, phones based on the software are unlikely to appear until early next year. Hardware makers have still to ready their phones for mass production while mobile operators continue network trials using phones based on the software.

Among the manufacturers preparing phones based on Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 are Taiwan's Compal, which unveiled a prototype of its phone back in February, and our own Birmingham-based Sendo Holdings, which demonstrated its first Stinger prototype in February 2001.

But even with the software and hardware for smartphones nearing the point where they are ready to ship, questions remain about whether some carriers are ready to offer services for mobiles based on Windows Powered Smartphone 2002.

"This is the version 1.0 software. To be honest, I don't even know if the software is good enough for some of the carriers," Cazzaro said. "We've already been doing extensive tests but at the last minute the carriers can say 'no, no, you need to change this or otherwise we don't want to ship it'."

Microsoft's Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 software has been close to release for several months now, but has been beset by problems with the hardware used in GPRS (general packet radio service) phones.

GPRS is a high-speed upgrade to GSM (global system for mobile communications) networks. The upgrade uses packet-switching technology and theoretically allows data transmission at speeds up to 171.2Kbps (kilobits per second), although available GPRS services don't offer data access at speeds higher than 56Kbps.

"One of the problems is that we bet Stinger on GPRS a long time ago because we thought you really needed to have GPRS to have a good phone," Cazzaro said. "In hindsight, that was a mistake because GPRS was not really stable until a few months ago."

The focus on producing smartphones for GPRS networks has delayed the launch of these products. "If we decided two years ago to ship on GSM, you would have had Stinger for a long time by now," Cazzaro said.

Indeed GSM technology is probably adequate for many of the applications that Microsoft has envisioned for smartphones, such as synchronising email, contact and calendar information.

"I can synchronise my email over 9.6Kbps almost as well as I can synchronise it over GPRS," said Cazzaro. "I can synchronise in three minutes most of my email and [with] GPRS it takes a minute and a half. Realistically, that difference is not going to change my life."