3G first from Vodafone

10 Nov 2004

Vodafone will be the first mobile operator to launch a 3G consumer service in Ireland at the end of the month in what CEO Paul Donovan described as “the start of the most important transformation the industry has known”.

More than two years after paying out €114m for a licence from the Commission for Communications Regulation and after investing a further €150m in rolling out the network infrastructure, Vodafone unveiled the first 3G services today but withheld handset prices and tariffs until nearer the launch.

The new UMTS network, more commonly known as 3G, enables faster download speeds that can reach a theoretical high of 384Kbps. Vodafone Ireland will initially launch four phones for the service, the Motorola V980, the Nokia 6630, the Sony Ericsson V800 and Europe’s first two mega-pixel camera phone, the Sharp V902. Prices for the handsets will start at €169.

Paul Donovan said that Vodafone Live! customers “had a proven appetite for content-rich services” that were about to receive more helpings with the launch of 3G. New multimedia offerings will include video streaming, mobile TV downloads, video calling, and extended catalogues of 3D games and digital music.

A core proposition will be Barclaycard Premiership clips that can be downloaded every Saturday match day at 5.15. This was the Hutchison trump card in the launch of its UK network 3 18 months ago; now the rights are to be shared with Vodafone, which has stolen a lead in the Irish market with Hutchison not expected to launch its Irish 3G network until next year.

O2 is still conducting network trials and has pencilled in next Spring for its 3G launch.

Vodafone’s next-generation network will also herald the introduction of mainstream video calling as well as enhanced video messaging. There will also be provision for sending video clips of up to one minute generation. Other services avail of streaming video for a selection of mobile TV services. There will be content from Sky News and RTE news bulletins along with heavily edited versions of top TV shows such as 24. Movie clips and music video will also be part of the offering.

While Donovan wouldn’t be drawn on tariffs before the launch proper, he made it clear that the data pricing would be kept simple, with downloading handled on an event basis. He did make the assurance that for the launch at least, video calls would be priced the same as voice. One other upshot of the service will be bundled packages that will include heavily reduced call charges, a tactic that has also been used by Hutchison in the UK.

Donovan said there was no specific sales forecast for Ireland although he made it clear that that he expected the take-up to gather momentum and quickly move beyond early adopters. “Christmas next year it will be mainstream mass market,” he said. Vodafone as a group has set a target of 10 million 3G customers by March 2006.

Today’s 3G launch took place simultaneously across Vodafone’s 13 territories in Ireland, Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

By Ian Campbell