CeBIT - Little 3G buzz this year

The buzz that once accompanied 3G (third-generation) broadband mobile internet appears to have fizzled out even before the...

The buzz that once accompanied 3G (third-generation) broadband mobile internet appears to have fizzled out even before the service has taken off.

Grabbing the attention this year were wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Handset availability, which dogged the start of GSM (Global Service for Mobility Communications) in Europe more than a decade ago, threatens to trip mobile operators eager to expand into the market for high-speed mobile internet services.

Jürgen von Kuczkowski, head of Vodafone Group's German unit, said last week in Hanover that his company will delay the launch of commercial 3G service, this time to the second half of 2003 and will launch then only if enough handsets are available.

But Kuczkowski was quick to defuse speculation of possible difficulties, should the operator be forced to announce yet another delay. "There will be no big bang" when the German subsidiary launches 3G, he said. "It's not at all important if you start a few weeks earlier or later."

Vodafone D2 has been paying interest on a huge loan for its €8.5bn (£5.8bn) 3G licence acquired more than two years ago, while generating zero revenue from the mobile broadband service during this time.

Now Kuczkowski is talking about testing 3G with a select number of business users over the next few months.

He has also dropped prices. 3G handsets will cost around €300 (£190) and fees for the high-speed packet-based data services will be low enough to compete with the competition.

Rival T-Mobile Deutschland announced plans ahead of CeBIT to cut its mobile data fees for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) up to 70%, with handsets to range from €100 (£68) to €500 (£340).

T-Mobile and Vodafone account for roughly 70% of the German mobile market, the largest in Europe.

T-Mobile is planning to launch commercial 3G service in the third quarter, as is O2 Germany, the country's fourth-largest mobile operator, which recently delayed its start date.

E-Plus Mobilfunk, the third-largest operator, is aiming for the end of this year, with a mass-market roll-out in early 2004, according to executive chairman Uwe Bergheim.

The conditions of 3G licences in Germany stipulate 25% geographic coverage by the end of this year, a condition all four operators say they will meet. Their primary concern, however, is whether sufficient quality handsets will be available. "We must have sufficient quality phones before we can launch commercial service," Kuczkowski said.

To date, only Motorola's A830 is in the shops. At CeBIT, the company also introduced its A835, a dual-mode phone that operates on both 3G and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks.

Nokia, Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications presented phones at CeBIT.

The Italian and UK subsidiaries of Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa have been forced to delay the full launch of their 3G services because of handset shortages.

Read more on Wireless networking