Hutchison Blusters on UK UMTS

If you have little to say, say it loudly. That seems to be the approach of the U.K.'s greenfield 3G license holder, Hutchison 3G UK Ltd., which is taking a boldly cautious approach to its allegedly impending launch.

So far, the holder of Britain's largest block of spectrum (15 MHz of paired spectrum and 5 MHz of unpaired) has named some hardware and software suppliers, two major content agreements, a roaming agreement with mm02 PLC (formerly BT Cellnet), and not much else.

Today it will add to that list, but only to name some gaming partners. Joe Dever, the operator's head of games [ed. note: great title! Master of Revels, anyone?], will tell those gathering in Los Angeles for E3, an interactive entertainment trade show, about nine of the companies supplying original and updated classics (chess, asteroids, and so on) to Hutchison 3G UK. These companies include Codetoys, Supedo, and the wonderfully named Cheeky Wireless.

But will these games be available from day one? And when is that exactly?

Well, the UMTS hopeful says it will launch in 2002, "but I won't be drawn into specifics," Ed Candy, technical director [ed. note: and Director of Sweets?], tells Unstrung. "It's not too far away, though." So pick a date between now and December 31, 2002.

And what will be available? Will there be corporate as well as consumer services? "Yes" is as far as Candy will commit himself. "The network has been built out to support that stuff, but I am not about to brief our competitors."

A spokesperson adds that "the full range of possible 3G services will not be available at launch," but then clams up.

Candy, though, is as bullish as he is protective, and is prepared to stick his neck out about the future success of his company. "Mark my words," he thundered at a press briefing in London on Monday. "We would not have spent this amount of money [nearly £4.4 billion on the license alone] if we had not done extensive research that ensures we have a sound proposition. We are not only convinced but overwhelmed by the evidence that this is a sound investment." Not in the least bit defensive, then.

Whatever the launch date, the operator is shy about revealing information that might provide any clues about services and rollout strategy. September 2002 is the current favorite and was quoted as the launch date by one of Hutchison's network management software suppliers, Cramer Systems. This would be a good time, too, for Hutchison to make the most of its agreement with the U.K.'s Football Association Premier League, which holds the rights to the top club soccer matches in England. The new season begins in late August, and, as the deal expires in July 2004, Hutchison needs to make use of that content fast.

What is apparent, though, is that this company (65 percent owned by Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., 20 percent by NTT DoCoMo, and 15 percent by KPN Mobile) is desperate to get a headstart on its competitors, namely 02, Orange SA, T-Mobile (formerly One2One), and Vodafone Group PLC. And it is remaining "on message" about its suppliers and partners, especially about the availability of dual-mode handsets that will work on Hutchison's wideband CDMA (WCDMA) infrastructure as well as 02's GSM and GPRS network. NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) are the named suppliers. Hutchison says it has these sets and that it is confident of the delivery schedule being met.

Given the history of failed handset delivery (choose a new wireless technology and look back at the delays), its confidence has not infected many others.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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