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BT puts 3G roll-out on hold

British Telecom has postponed by at least three months the launch of its first 3G mobile phone service, which was due to be unveiled on the Isle of Man later this month. The troubled telecoms giant blames malfunctioning handsets for the delay.

BT subsidiary Manx Telecom has confirmed it will not now roll out its service on the island until the end of summer or early autumn.

Problems with the service became apparent when handsets from Japan's NEC lost their connection when callers moved into a different area of the network, a BT spokesman said. A software flaw prevented the network seamlessly passing the call between base stations.

The flaw is the same one that prevented DoCoMo from launching its 3G service in May, the BT spokesman added. The Japanese company postponed its roll out to 1 October.

This is only the latest complication over handsets to hit the Manx project. By the beginning of the month, NEC had only delivered 200 units, plus 75 peripherals, called image viewer terminals, that enabled videoconferencing.

Although Manx had requested extra volume, the supplier did not commit to further deliveries. Manx telecom is now in talks with other manufacturers, although these would need to test and integrate their equipment with the island's network, said the company's director of UMTS, Mark Briers.

Just two weeks ago, Briers denied that Manx was delaying the full launch of the 3G service. "It looks like we are about a year ahead of the rest of Europe, so we need to maintain excitement about 3G over that time. This timetable has been in place for months," he said.

Manx aimed to launch a 3G phone with voice and videoconferencing services, Briers explained. During the summer, the company planned to roll out further business applications, such as corporate intranet, data services and location finding.

Briers said the network operator was also committed to launching consumer services in the summer. These include online gaming and Internet access, with the development of a portal for an unnamed Premiership football club.

Chris Mugan

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