CeBIT: Vodafone plans gradual German 3G launch

Mobile phone giant Vodafone said on Tuesday it was not focusing on a firm date to launch new third-generation mobile phone...

Mobile phone giant Vodafone said on Tuesday it was not focusing on a firm date to launch new third-generation mobile phone services in Germany, but would roll out 3G gradually in the second half of the year.

Europe's largest mobile phone firm said it would not start a mass-market launch of 3G, which brings faster Internet connections to mobile phones, this spring, as earlier announced, but only offer it to selected corporate customers by that time.

"The commercial launch to the end-customer market will come during the second half of the year, as soon as there are enough handsets," said Vodafone's German head Juergen von Kuczkowski at a news conference ahead of CeBIT, the technology fair due to start on Wednesday in Hanover, Germany.

"There will be no big bang, but a smooth transition," von Kuczkowski said. "We are not focusing on a special launch date."

European telecoms firms have spent €100bn on licences to offer 3G services, but the technology is still riddled with technical glitches and handsets are still not available in mass-market volumes.

Vodafone, which has 3G licences in eight European countries, has said it aimed to launch 3G during the next financial year, which ends in March 2004.

But it is under pressure to launch quickly in Germany, where rival T-Mobile International, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, has announced a start to offering 3G in 200 German cities in the third quarter of this year.

Von Kuczkowski said he saw subsidised 3G handsets to be offered to end-customers for around €300. He said the firm was reviewing its fee structure after T-Mobile last week announced plans to cut data tariffs by up to 70% to help fuel fresh demand for mobile data services.

"We will have new tariffs," von Kuczkowski said. "And they are not going to be more expensive than they are now, they are rather going down."

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