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First to the market will be 3 SpA, followed in January by two other Ericsson technology clients, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) SpA and WindSpA, said Ericsson chief executive officer Massimo Gentili.
"Ericsson is the company that has invested most and is farthest ahead in UMTS technology," Gentili said. The company was also one of the system providers in the launch of Europe's first third-generation mobile phone service in Austria in September, but that launch, by Mobilkom Austria, reached only 25% of a much smaller population. By contrast, 3 SpA will launch its UMTS service in 20 of Italy's biggest cities.
"Italy is the most advanced mobile telecommunications market in Europe," he said. "The platform we are developing for Italy will later be used in other countries."
Some 2 million Italians will be using dual-mode handsets by the end of next year and the sale of UMTS phones will be boosted when prices come down to around €300 (£190) in June 2003, Gentili predicted.
"The only three networks in operation in Italy at the beginning of next year will be those created by Ericsson," Gentili said. Vodafone Omnitel, Italy's second-largest mobile phone operator and a user of Nokia technology, would not be ready to launch commercial operations until later.
UMTS sales accounted for 25% of Ericsson's Italian revenue of approximately €1bn (£640m) this year and the proportion is expected to rise to 40% next year.