Euro 3G Switches On
Telefònica Mòviles SA, T-Mobile International AG, and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) have switched on their 3G networks, enabling laptop users to access high(er)-speed services with a UMTS data card. Voice services are not expected to be activated until the third quarter of this year.
UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) is the 3G upgrade to the GSM standard, using a wideband-CDMA (W-CDMA) air interface on top of the GSM core network to increase voice capacity and boost data-transfer speeds to a possible 2 Mbit/s [ed. note: emphasis on possible].
Vodafone is launching its 3G data card in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. (see V'fone Launches 3G Service). Spain's Telefònica Mòviles, meanwhile, is focusing initial efforts on its home market. And T-Mobile has added the U.K. to its already-live 3G networks in Germany and Austria (see T-Mobile Turns On UK 3G).
Despite falling short of full-scale voice service launches, the moves are at least a step in the right direction. 2003 was a dismal year for Europe's 3G industry, as license debacles and technology setbacks hindered rollout of the high-speed wireless networks (see Euro 3G's License Lunacies and Euro Carriers: 3G's Not Ready).
"The year ahead promises much, but these promises need to be realized – otherwise the industry will fall back into uncertainty," warns IDC senior analyst Paolo Pescatore. "Continued migration toward data services and a wave of 3G launches are required to ensure the building blocks are there for a successful future."
The launches are in keeping with widespread belief that the cellular industry is through the worst of the wireless downturn. Infrastructure sales are forecast to show strong growth in the next few years, and sentiment at next week's 3GSM Congress shindig in Cannes is expected to be more upbeat than at previous events (see Infrastructure to Hit $753M and W-CDMA Shows Promise).
"We expect a more confident carrier community to boldly outline their investment plans and strategies for 3G and other data services," opines a Lehman Brothers analyst in a research note. "We expect encouraging updates from most industry players, including Alcatel, Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Qualcomm."
Hopes are high that once these long-promised data services actually exist, someone will still be interested in buying them. Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. remains the only high-profile European carrier to have commercially launched UMTS voice services, which upped the pressure on its rivals to roll out networks – but its subscriber numbers have been, shall we say, less than stellar (see Hutch's Subscriber U-Turn).
— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung