The launch of the UK’s first third generation mobile services for business users was a major theme for operators at last week’s 3GSM World Congress in Cannes. But they continue to battle against user scepticism.
Two-thirds of telecom managers questioned expressed no interest in 3G services, according to a survey conducted before the conference by the Communications Management Association.
Derek Eccleston, director at research company HI Europe Technology, said technical problems and alternative existing technologies were the main reasons for user scepticism about 3G. "Many business users can already do what they want to do with wireless Lans, which are seen as a rival to 3G," he said.
Suppliers remained upbeat about 3G, however, with operators Orange and T-Mobile announcing 3G-enabled networks, and Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola unveiling new 3G phones.
Orange said 40% of its UK 3G network was now ready, but admitted even this portion had problems that needed ironing out. It said the network would not be available commercially until the end of the year.
Hutchison’s 3 network is still the only commercially available 3G mobile service in the UK.
Experts have said the main obstacle to rolling out 3G services is providing seamless integration between 2.5G (GPRS) network coverage and 3G networks. This is necessary because operators are looking to fill gaps in their 3G coverage by providing a GPRS service instead to deliver a continuous service to users.
Didier Quillot, chief executive of Orange France, voiced the concerns of some mobile operators about the lack of suitable phones to support forthcoming 3G network infrastructure and services.
This concern was echoed by Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin - his company is close to offering a limited 3G service in the UK. Phone manufacturers dispute there is a shortage.
The Vodafone service relies on data cards being inserted into laptops, which can then be used to get access to the internet via a fledgling 3G network covering London, Manchester, Birmingham and other urban areas.
Rival supplier T-Mobile is to launch a similar data card-based 3G network in the UK "in weeks", according to a spokeswoman, but, like the Vodafone product, the T-Mobile network will have users roaming between 3G and GPRS networks to maintain data connections.