The tension surrounding the imminent commercial launch of 3G services in the U.K. is so tangible, you could almost cut it with a knife -- that is, if the atmosphere in Unstrung's spare bedroom is anything to go by.
Yes, we're talking about Hutchison 3G UK Ltd., or '3,' as it wishes to be known (see Copywriters on Acid). It's ramping up for a commercial launch by making sales-channel deals and setting out the terms of a promotional offer for its first lucky customers (see Hutchison, Phones 4u Pair and H3G UK Reveals Pricing).
The greenfield operator is also busy building out its network with radical new technology, as it continues to test 3G handsets from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY) with its friendly trial users (see Russian Roots Inspire Startup and Hutch 3G Dumps Supplier).
Indeed, the carrier has had the good grace to confirm that it is using point-to-point backhaul technology from Sceptre Communications (UK) Ltd., which bases its products on technology developed for the Russian space program, as revealed here earlier this month.
But what's certain is that the 3G hopeful is not 'Russian' [ed.: groan] into the full-scale commercial launch of its service, though it is trying to attract "early adopters" to its Website to get a feel for the future of mobile services. "Have you seen the site?" asks 3's resident defender of the truth, Ed Brewster. Yes, we have. And the demos of what can be done with a 3G handset and some video messaging are, well, very interesting. We suggest you take a look for yourself, to see what can be done by two naked men with some traffic cones. But then, that's exactly what we expect such services to be used for!
The site also allows people to register early so as to be one of the first "real" customers once the service is commercially available. And when will that be? "When we are happy that the service will deliver to customer expectations," states Brewster more than once.
The promotional offer, which includes an unspecified discount on the recommended retail price of £399 ($635, or €621) for the handsets, is offered to the first 20,000 customers. How long will it take to attract that many punters, we ask? "I'd just like to point out that this is a promotional pricing deal, and not the overall pricing strategy," Brewster interjects. "We haven't said how long we think it will take. We haven't released a timescale. But this offer isn't open indefinitely." So he hopes, anyway.
So while people play with demos and register on the Website, when will they be able to have a hands-on play and demonstration in the operator's three "flagship stores" (again, see Hutch 3G Dumps Supplier). "The shops are nearing completion. We'll be showcasing the services in the stores when they're ready." Which will be…? "Soon."
While it truly matters little in the grand scheme of things whether a commercial launch happens now, next week, or next month, there are some self-imposed and very public targets that the company has set for itself, such as having one million 3G customers in the U.K. and Italy by the end of 2003. "That figure is a modeling assumption," says Brewster, seemingly reading from a book of baffling marketing hedges, "but is not built into the business plan. What we do know is that millions of people in the U.K. are ready to take the step up to 3G."
In which case, that promotional offer for the first 20,000 customers should be almost instantly over-subscribed. We'll check back soon to see if it's still on offer.
Brewster does, however, reiterate another publicly-stated goal for the 3G newcomer: namely, that it will be "EBITDA break-even in 2005."
Seeing as we're so close to 2003, that's an on-the-record claim well worth putting in the diary for December 31, 2004.
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung