Vodafone launches 3G

12 Feb 2004

Vodafone Group plc today announces the commercial launch of its 3G services in Europe. The first service from Vodafone will be the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS datacard, Europe’s first high speed lap top datacard.

With data rates of up to 384Kbps, the datacard will enable Vodafone customers to access all their usual office applications like email, calendar and internet at up to 10 times the speed of GPRS, though in practice speeds are likely to vary depending on location. Vodafone claims that the greater data speed of the card will be a productivity boost for mobile workers.

Vodafone Ireland plans to start customer trials of the new Vodafone 3G Mobile Connect Card from the beginning of April. This will be followed by commercial availability of this service in the early summer. However, the service will be available in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK over the next four weeks.

The commercial launch of the 3G datacard follows successful customer trials conducted across Europe with thousands of business customers, according to Vodafone.

Vodafone Ireland currently has over 200 third-generation sites on air covering more than 40pc of the population. This number will rise to 300 between now and the end of March to provide 3G coverage in all of these areas. It is anticipated that the company will launch its 3G consumer offering in the second half of this year, subject to appropriate quality handsets and performance.

3G coverage is currently offered in most Vodafone markets in major cities and an increasing number of transport routes. When outside of 3G network coverage, the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS datacard automatically switches to Vodafone’s GPRS network, which offers full coverage.

According to Vodafone sources in Ireland, this ‘handover’ between 3G and GPRS has been the most problematic aspect of testing to date and the company wanted to be sure of high reliability before it launched the service for fear of causing disappointment in the marketplace.

3G coverage will be expanded continually by Vodafone over the next few years, although according to the same sources, 85pc population coverage was “still years away”.

Customer trials of Vodafone’s consumer 3G service, which will enhance the Vodafone live! offering, are currently being conducted with selected Vodafone customers across Europe. Initial customer feedback is positive and Vodafone will introduce a consumer service in the next few months, with an enhanced range of 3G devices and services becoming available later in the year.

Peter Bamford, chief marketing officer, said: “The announcement of the launch of our 3G services is a major milestone in Vodafone’s 3G journey. With significantly faster data rates and greater capacity, customers will really start to see and experience the huge benefits of 3G, by being able to do more, faster. Feedback received from our customers indicates how the card can transform the way they work.”

He added: “3G will enable Vodafone to drive more mobile minutes, deliver high quality content and entertainment, and enable greater productivity by mobilising business. In introducing our 3G offerings, we will be taking further advantage of our scale and scope and thereby delivering better services to our customers and more value to our shareholders.”

With Vodafone having announced its first 3G service, all eyes will be on O2, its main rival in the Irish marketplace, to see what its response will be.

By Brian Skelly