While its rivals wring their hands over the quality of 3G handsets, T-Mobile has committed itself to launching a full 3G service in May, with both handsets and data cards, across the UK, Germany and Austria. Not only that, it will have a package combining 3G access with a network of Wi-Fi hotspots - which it has promised to expand in Europe.
Announcements from CeBIT in Germany this week show 3G emerging as a useful business tool. The plans from T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2 all show optimism about the final commercial viability of 3G in Germany and, to a different extent, the UK. All are looking at business-oriented services.
T-Mobile is launching a combined voice and data 3G service in May, in the UK, Germany and Austria. It will eventually combine Wi-Fi, 3G and GPRS services, accessed by PDA, phone or laptop, and expand the number of its hotspots from 5,000 to 15,000.
In Germany, T-Mobile's 3G network will cover 200 cities, or 40 percent of the population when it launches and the company expects to have 50 percent coverage by the end of this year.
In other announcements at CeBIT, O2 launched a data-card only service and Vodafone said its data-card service - the first to launch in Europe - was a storming success (it is selling mobile data cards as fast as manufacturers can supply them, said chief executive Jürgen von Kuczkowski).
"Demand for the high-speed service is very strong," said Kuczkowski. "Our sales so far give me every reason to believe that 3G will be an overwhelming success, despite some early network teething problems and the lack of small, reliable handsets with a long-battery life."
Vodafone expects to launch one or two handsets in the next couple of months and to overcome the handset problem completely in time for the Christmas shopping season. "I'm confident we'll meet this deadline," said Kuczkowski.
O2 has a more limited plan, with its German arm launching a mobile data card service, from April, and no word on a UK launch. However, it also plans an ambitious scheme to use connect PCs and private WLANs to its 3G network through a preconfigured base station, replacing the fixed line, and presumably data connection that will be attractive to people out of reach of ADSL.
For more details on all of these, see our feature, Time to choose your firm a 3G plan?.
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