CEBIT - Nokia: European 3G service to launch in September

Europe will see its first mass market 3G (third-generation) mobile phone service launch on Sept. 26, a senior Nokia Corp. executive said Tuesday. 3G networks allow high-speed, always-on mobile data connections.

"We will launch commercial 3G services and handsets on Sept. 26, together with our partners," said Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president Nokia Mobile Phones, speaking at a press conference here at the CeBIT trade show. "We are going for a mass market launch, not a techno launch."

"The partners are European mobile phone operators and they will be ready," Vanjoki added. European mobile phone operators have pushed back 3G rollouts repeatedly over the past year or so.

To show that Espoo, Finland-based Nokia will also be ready, Vanjoki pulled out a Nokia handset made for 3G services and flashed it before the audience. Handset makers have been criticized for the lack of handsets for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks that have been launched recently and allow limited mobile data connections.

Nokia might be a tad too excited, commented Peter Richardson, vice president of research at U.S. technology investment bank SoundView Technology Corp.

"I have been saying for the last two years that we wouldn't see product until the end of 2002 and not in volume until well into 2003," he said, adding that many other handset makers are getting ready for 3G, besides Nokia.

European mobile phone operators two years ago spent fortunes acquiring licenses to build and run 3G networks. 3G has been touted by many, including Nokia, as the technology to bring the Internet and online services to mobile handsets.

3G services will likely go live first on networks linked to Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd. in both the U.K. and Italy, said Richardson, making an educated guess on who Nokia might be referring to as its partners.

"Hutchinson, both in the U.K. and Italy, has indicated that it is looking at a 3G commercial launch in the third quarter," he said. "Hutchinson has been looking for a handset maker and I believe they have been working with Motorola (Inc.), but looking over the last few technology introductions, the market doesn't really take off until Nokia comes out."

Hutchinson has to launch its 3G network to comply with regulatory requirements and its 3G license, according to Richardson.