3G Redefined, Finnish Style

Something strange happened in Finland yesterday. At a joint press conference in Helsinki, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) revealed its first 3G dualmode handset, the 6650 (see Nokia: Hurry Up and Wait). But then national telco Sonera Corp. (Nasdaq: SNRA) queered the pitch somewhat with its unique definition of 3G. According to the carrier, 3G is pretty much anything that isn't voice and SMS.

For instance, according to Sonera, picture messaging is a 3G service. It's just that no one else appears to agree. Apart from Nokia, that is. It's quite prepared to jump aboard the crazy definition bandwagon. So why would the Finns talk themselves into this pointless corner? To try and save face, it would seem. Earlier this year, Nokia and Sonera picked September 26 as the day they would unveil their 3G talents. Sonera was to commercially launch its UMTS network (a Nokia network, by the way), while Nokia's handsets would display the rich customer-oriented service wonders of UMTS. Nokia even "thought about calling [the handset] the 2609," says Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president at Nokia Mobile Phones. [Ed. note: I guess it would have been called the 0926 in North America…]

But come the big day, and... well, things just hadn't worked out. Sonera has some UMTS network in place, but it's still undergoing many interoperability tests. Not wanting to let the side down, it announced some new mobile data services, calling them "3G services." However, these new services are currently only available to the public on Sonera's 2G (GSM, GPRS) network. Sonera CEO Harri Koponen says these 3G services are live on the operator's UMTS network. They might well be, but nobody's using that network at the moment, so that's only relevant for test purposes.

Never fear, campers, all is not lost. "The consumers don't have to wait," says Koponen, "as these services work today and are commercially available on the GSM and GPRS network." But if they're 3G services, how come they work on a 2G network? Doesn't that make them, er, 2G services? What, then, are 3G services, asks Unstrung out loud and into a microphone in front of about 200 people?

"Multimedia messaging is a 3G service," proclaims Nokia's Vanjoki, to the audible (mumble, mumble, mumble) bewilderment of the assembled audience. "The 3G networks will offer a richer experience for these services. 2G services are voice and SMS -- services that are circuit-switched."

It's kind of hard to follow that. These guys are deploying terminology in a different way from the rest of the industry, so it's hard to know what to make of the rest of the announcements made at the public press conference.

What Nokia did do was unveil its dualmode phone, which sports the classic Nokia design and is probably destined to win a fair chunk of the W-CDMA market [ed. note: such as it is in 2003]. "It's an important milestone for Nokia to come out with this handset," Paolo Pescatore, senior research analyst at IDC's EMEA wireless and mobile communications division tells Unstrung. "Nokia is trying to take a lead by addressing its target audience. The important thing about this handset is that it allows multitasking. You can maintain a data session with speeds up to 100 kbit/s while taking a voice call. This is a step on from GPRS." And what does Pescatore make of the day's redefinition of 3G? He smiles and says the problem lies in the communication of the message. He is too kind.

A few other points to note in the real world. Nokia says it is about to ship the commercial software that operators need for live UMTS networks that will enable functions such as handover from UMTS to GSM without dropping a call. This will be followed by network tuning and optimization to ready networks for commercial deployment in 2003.

As for the 6650 handsets, Vanjoki told the press conference that the phone was still being tested on UMTS networks, that the beginning of next year would see "commercial testing" of the 6650, and "shipments of commercial volumes would start later in 2003." It will sell in the shops for about the same price as the 7650 picture messaging handset that is already on the market for anything between €250 and €750, depending on the country and the operator subsidy.

Then Vanjoki got carried away and claimed that Nokia "has already sold some of the phones and will continue to sell in increasing numbers." But this was denied by David Watkins, Nokia's European director, Imaging (that's picture phones). "We're not selling them yet, just shipping for trials," said Watkins. Sales through retail outlets are expected to start in the first half of 2003, though in low numbers.

Following the press conference, various services were on display running on Sonera's GSM and GPRS networks. This is where it was proven that the 6650 does indeed work on a GSM network. Unstrung was also shown the handset working on "a UMTS network." Just which UMTS network depends on whom you talk to. Nokia stated that the handsets (one of which was stolen and then recovered!) were running on Sonera's live UMTS network. But talk to the poor guy having to actually show the media how it works, and he says that the "live" 3G network is on the other side of Helsinki, and that the connection to the 6650 is from a test base station. The live 3G network that will provide the public with UMTS access will be truly launched and open for public use "when there are enough phones," according to Sonera.

It was just one of those days, we guess. As IDC's Pescatore says, the problem lies in the communication of the message.

And to cap the day, Sonera CEO Koponen, who says he isn't sure how much of the mothballed Finnish population his UMTS network is covering at the moment, opened his exuberant pitch to the world's media by stating: "You will not be disappointed by the time you leave here today." Wrong again, Harri, wrong again.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
incards 12/4/2012 | 9:40:25 PM
re: 3G Redefined, Finnish Style Kudos to Ray Le Maistre for:

1.) Attending the Nokia Sonera Event

2.) Asking good questions on microphone and off

3.) Writing about the event candidly

And especially ...

4.) Writing about the event accurately ....

... and clarifying that the Nokia 6650 was actually demonstrated in WCDMA mode as well as GSM GPRS mode, which is something that I wondered about when I watch the webcast.

On Thursday afternoon Jean Liou (who evidently did not attend the event) published an article for Agence France Presse (AFP) that gave the impression that the phone was only demonstrated on the existing commercial GSM GPRS network and not the non-commercial UMTS network giving rise to lots of mindless buzz on various wireless message boards.

Ray has a problem with the concept of delivering "3G Services" on a 2.5G network. I don't, even though there is obviously some spin attached to that.

Having said that, Ray gave Anssi Vanjoki of Nokia and Sonera CEO Harri Koponen an opportunity to concisely define this concept (skillfully spin it if you will, and their responses were unsatisfactory to Ray, to the audience assembled - and to me.

Good job, Ray.

- IC -
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