O2 prepares for autumn launch of 3G services

21 May 2004

Ireland’s second largest network operator, O2, says it will be ready to offer 3G services in the autumn when 3G handsets arrive in the shops.

Oliver Coughlan, O2’s chief technology officer, told siliconrepublic.com that the company had fulfilled its regulatory obligations and was now ready to provide services when users wanted them. “We know there will be mass market availability of handsets in the autumn of this year. People will see those phones and say: ‘I like that phone, I like what it can offer’, so we’ll have to provide a 3G network to support that.”

Coughlan added that O2 had been rolling out and testing its 3G network for months and it had now reached 34pc population coverage. There is already coverage in Dublin and other urban centres such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Kilkenny.

With regard to the much publicised ‘handover’ issue on 3G networks, Coughlan conceded that passing voice or data calls seamlessly between two independent networks – 2G/2.5G and 3G – was a complex engineering challenge but one that the company was determined to get right. “Irish customers demand and expect a lot from their network providers. You can’t just say to them: ‘3G is a new technology; stick with us for another three years and we’ll get it sorted out’. They’ll want the same quality.”

Coughlan was adamant that customers who move out of 3G coverage would not experience poor quality or interrupted data transmission. “You’ll still hold the session, it will have the same functionality albeit not at the same speed of data throughput as 3G.” He added that users making voice calls would not notice any difference moving between areas of 3G and non-3G coverage.

Perhaps seeking to dispel any possible doubts about O2’s commitment to 3G, Coughlan revealed that the company would spent in the region of €200m in the coming two or three years on its 3G network.

Although some commentators have suggested that the roll-out of 3G networks will be limited to urban areas – with rural areas being serviced by a variety of other wireless technologies – Coughlan did not share this view. He predicted that 3G eventually would replace GPRS entirely and, assuming the demand was there, 3G coverage would eventually cover the 99pc-plus of the population currently covered by O2’s GSM/GPRS network.

“Will we go on forever supporting a 2.5G network? We will support it as long as that is the main technology but if we see people moving on to a new technology, why would we continue to support the old one?”

Coughlan also revealed that O2 is currently conducting four trials of a new wireless technology called TDD; a ‘last mile’ technology that holds the prospect of bringing broadband to rural areas without putting fibreoptic cable or copper wire in the ground.

By Brian Skelly