Hutchison targets UK users with 3G service launch

Telecoms company Hutchison 3G UK Holdings will launch the UK's first 3G mobile phone service this week when it issues 1,000...

Telecoms company Hutchison 3G UK Holdings will launch the UK's first 3G mobile phone service this week when it issues 1,000 handsets to what it is calling "friends of the company".

The company, which will become the UK's fifth mobile operator alongside Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and mmO2, said it hopes to have 100,000 UK customers by the end of 2002 and one million by the end of 2003.

Hutchison's announcement coincided with downbeat predictions from Nokia and Sonera, about the future of 3G or Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS).

Nokia officially announced its 6650 phone for 3G networks and Finnish company Sonera unveiled what it calls its first 3G services.

However, these 3G services will be offered on Sonera's 2G and 2.5G networks first. Users will be able to benefit from the added 3G network speed in parts of Finland sometime next year if they buy a 3G handset.

"When you move to 3G the services will be richer," said Harri Koponen, Sonera's president and chief executive. Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice-president of Nokia, added that the benefits of 3G are "additional speed, quality of service and multitasking".

Vanjoki expected "busy business people" to be the first to buy the 6650 because it is possible to be connected to the Internet on a laptop and talk on the phone at the same time.

Ben Wood, senior analyst at Gartner Dataquest, said the announcements contained no surprises. "They launched a phone that looks like a phone and the expected redefinition of 3G has come to fruition. 3G is not a new network that stands on its own, it is intrinsically linked to 2G and 2.5G," he said.

"The reality is when people talk about Holy Grails and killer applications, they just don't exist. There is only one for mobile phones and that is just voice," said Wood.

The launch of commercial 3G services in Europe has been delayed by both technical issues and cash-strapped operators curbing investment. Sonera's Koponen said he expects 2004 and 2005 to be "the mass market years for UMTS".

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