Providers plan German 3G service rollout

Two of the six companies licensed to provide 3G (third generation) wireless service in Germany are trying to get a jump on the competition by announcing earlier launches. The long-awaited new technology promises such features as multimedia downloads and faster data-transfer rates using mobile phones.

Vodafone Group PLC will start its D2 Vodafone service in the third quarter, spokesman Jon Earl said Friday, adding that sufficient handsets will be available by then. So far, in parts of Europe where providers have announced with great fanfare the introduction of 3G service, the lack of phones for consumer purchase has rendered the launches largely theoretical.

Mobilcom AG is also aiming for a speedy start, said spokesman Torsten Kollande, but he would not name a more specific date than the second half of 2002. The other license holders, T-Mobile International AG, E-Plus Mobilfunk GmbH & Co. KG, VIAG Interkom GmbH & Co., and Group 3G UMTS GmbH (operating under the brand name Quam) have promised service for late 2002 or early 2003.

Kollande also calmed fears about a shortage of handsets, remarking that Motorola Inc. has said it will have 3G consumer phones on the German market by the second quarter. Kollande would not say, however, whether his company has contracted with Motorola or another hardware manufacturer.

In any case, early demand for the devices is likely to be moderate, he said.

"It's not as if the minute we flip the switch, so to speak, there will instantly be countless millions of subscribers, although we'd like that," he said. "Experience in Japan shows that maybe 5 million people will sign up within the first few months."

Both companies declined to name specific features that will be offered at launch, or to specify which cities will be served first or whether a national rollout is planned.

In a related announcement, Vodafone said it will in March retire the D2 brand name, a legacy of the former German provider Mannesmann AG, which the U.K. giant acquired in 2000. Vodafone had been operating locally under the brand D2 Vodafone, but that was only for a transitional period, said Earl.

"This is part of specific dual-branding strategy, so we are able to phase in the Vodafone name across markets, whilst respecting the strength and culture of the local brand," he said, adding that the company's Japanese subsidiary is now using the name J-Phone Vodafone, that its Portuguese and Spanish operators have switched over to the Vodafone brand, and that a similar move is planned for Sweden in April.

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