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Vodafone's 3G on track for June 2002

Vodafone is "on track" to launch its 3G (third-generation) mobile services in Japan and Europe in June 2002, the company's chief executive officer Sir Christopher Gent said on 20 September.

"Next year 3G is very much going to be introduced - our plans are still on target - but I don't expect there to be any decent volumes of 3G pick-up by consumers until 2003," Gent said.

The statement came as he outlined Vodafone's bid to take full control of Japan Telecom. Vodafone, the world's largest mobile phone operator, already owns a 45% stake in Japan Telecom and a 46% stake in Japan Telecom's cellular unit, J-Phone.

A number of companies, including J-Phone, NTT DoCoMo - Japan's largest cellular telecommunications carrier - and British Telecommunications have been forced to push back the launch of services using 3G technologies planned for the second half of this year.

Other companies not planning to launch any 3G services until the second half of 2002, such as Hutchison Whampoa and Orange, have been assuring investors, consumers and industry observers that their plans are still on track.

Gent stressed that general acceptance of the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) protocol - seen by industry analysts and technology companies to be the stepping stone to 3G - would begin to take off by the end of the year.

"I think you will see being launched next month a much wider range of GPRS handsets, notably from Nokia. We are also planning the launch of GPRS unified messaging and universal messaging which will greatly improve the take-up of GPRS," Gent said.

He said he expected GPRS to be the predominant mobile standard for the next three years, as consumers will be less likely to replace their newly acquired GPRS handsets with 3G ones until all of the kinks in the 3G networks and services are ironed out after its launch.

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