Vodafone ready for GPRS, still keen on 3G

UK telecommunications company Vodafone Group PLC is giving assurance that it is still very enthusiastic about the prospect of new mobile telecommunications technologies, including 3G (third-generation) services, even though the building of the networks may take longer than originally planned.

Vodafone is already operating its GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network in Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Portugal and Austria and will roll out its commercial GPRS service in all of its other "controlled subsidiaries" by the second quarter of this year, Vodafone said in a statement after a press conference on Wednesday.

Furthermore, by the third quarter of the year, the company plans to launch its 3G network through its subsidiary, AirTel Movil SA which is also Spain's second-biggest mobile operator, Vodafone said. Other markets will begin launching 3G networks in 2002, the company added.

Those other markets presumably include Japan where J-Phone Communications Co. Ltd., in which Vodafone and Japan Telecom Co. Ltd. are leading shareholders, announced on Tuesday a six-month delay in the roll out of its W-CDMA (Wideband Code-Division Multiple Access) service. The delay means NTT DoCoMo Inc. will have a one-year head start over J-Phone in starting 3G services in Tokyo -- that is if NTT meets its own May deadline for rolling out its service, which is in doubt due to a lack of target and time frame dates from the company.

Telecommunications companies have spent billions on 3G spectrum licences as well as building out the network, and Vodafone Chief Executive Chris Gent warned that 3G won't have any "major impact" on the market until 2003-2004, expectations that are not out of line with current industry thinking.

A study of the European mobile market released Monday predicted that the market for mobile voice communication is not expected to reach maturity until 2004, according to market research company Frost & Sullivan Ltd., the UK branch of US-based Frost & Sullivan Inc.

The study also concluded that the five largest operators -- Vodafone, T-Mobile International AG, Orange SA, Telecom Italia Mobile SpA and the wireless division of British Telecommunications PLC -- will most likely maintain their dominance in the market, though the companies will have to offer more data services and tailor 3G products to meet consumers' needs if they are to make back with any speed the massive amounts invested in the 3G markets.

Meanwhile, carriers throughout Europe are seeking to allay fears that 3G networks will be blocked by cost and technical problems. Thursday, executives from German's aspiring UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) operators met to give assurances to consumers and investors about the future of the technology at an industry meeting in Berlin. Vodafone, in Newbury, England, can be reached at +44-1635-33251 or http://www.vodafone.com/. The London office of Frost & Sullivan can be reached at +44-20-7730-3438 or on the Web at http://www.frost.com/.

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More about British TelecommunicationsDoCoMoFrost & Sullivan (Aust)Japan TelecomJ-PhoneNTT AustraliaTelecom ItaliaT-MobileUMTSVodafone

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