No 3G block on UK business users

Antony Savvas

Businesses will not be locked out of "third generation" (3G) mobile phone opportunities, despite the initial focus on...

Antony Savvas

Businesses will not be locked out of "third generation" (3G) mobile phone opportunities, despite the initial focus on entertainment content, say analysts.

Last week, the Government revealed the bidders for the five 3G spectrum licences it is auctioning this year. The licences allow successful bidders to provide access to data and video on the move at up to 2mbps.

There has been concern in the run-up to the auction that consortia will only allow users to access Web sites aimed at domestic users when the necessary networks are launched.

This would mean that smaller businesses or those with orthodox business sites would not be able to take advantage of the new business opportunities which will materialise from 3G, using technologies like the wireless application protocol.

All the bidders for the licences - which include the UK's big four mobile network operators - are expected to focus on entertainment for domestic users, making it harder for companies to use devices to access sites for business.

But analysts insist that while this will initially be the case, the developing market will see opportunities for businesses quickly appear. Don Pearce, principle consultant at Netcom Consultants, which has worked on commercial 3G bids in other countries, said, "In a couple of years everybody will be able to take advantage.

"The early terminals will be designed only to take advantage of specific Web sites, but it won't be long before users will be able to load software which will allow them to surf where they like. And there will be 3G cards to plug into laptops too."

Pearce said the successful bidders will not be able to recoup their infrastructure investments - up to £5bn for operators not already in the mobile network market - simply from charging for specific limited services. They will have to open their networks to vast Internet portals, which will allow firms to have their material viewed by business users.

Andrew Parker, senior analyst with Forrester Research, echoed Pearce. He confirmed that popular thought on Web sites accessible from mobile phones focused on agreements between mobile operators and Web site operators, producing a closed Internet. But Parker said, "Ultimately the barriers will be broken down and the mobile Internet will become open.

3G timetable

Companies bidding include the existing mobile operators, and consortia involving: Virgin, EMI, NTL, Tesco, Global Crossing, Telefonica, WorldCom and France Telecom.

The five winners will be announced in March. The first UK 3G networks are not expected to be running until 2002 in the UK.

Read more on IT risk management