Sonera launches 3G service in four cities

Telecoms operator Sonera has launched a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) service in Finland's four largest...

Telecoms operator Sonera has launched a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) service in Finland's four largest cities.

Currently operating in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Oulu, Tampere and Turku, the services "will be expanded in future based on commercial demand," Sonera said.

However, the handsets needed to take advantage of the high-speed data and multimedia services promised by UMTS are not yet available. For the time being the network will be limited to testing by the company. Sonera was required under the terms of its government licence to launch the network by the start of 2002.

"Of course we are depending on what handset manufacturers are saying, but basically the plan is to provide a commercial service in the last part of this year," said Jyrki Karasvirta, a Sonera spokesman. He could offer no details on handset availability, but added that Finnish mobile-phone operators are prohibited by law from providing handsets directly to customers.

The long-awaited 3G service has faced repeated delays in Europe. MMO2, British Telecom's recently spun-off wireless division, announced in December that its first network is operating on the Isle of Man, but acknowledged that more delays are ahead before a mass-market service in the UK will be ready.

Karasvirta commented that even when the 3G service is launched, he expects most customers to adopt it slowly.

"If you look at the experience we gained first from WAP and then from GPRS, the number of people who will buy new handsets is quite small," he said. "Today we have some 10,000 GPRS users, while we have 2.4 million mobile phone users.

"The same phenomenon actually took place with WAP; very few people bought WAP phones when they heard about it - however today over 50% of phones sold have WAP. This clearly indicates that the group of early adopters is quite small, and then the masses accept the new services when they buy a new handset anyway."

Karasvita added that the average Finnish user buys a new handset of every two-and-a-half years.

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