Vodafone confirms autumn launch for Irish 3G

11 Mar 2003

Vodafone Ireland has confirmed that it will be launching the first set of its 3G (third generation) services this autumn in harmony with the rollout of 3G services by the Vodafone Group in several other European countries.

Following months of deliberate ambiguity and vagueness on the part of senior management in Vodafone Group about the schedule of its 3G rollout, outgoing CEO Chris Gent told German magazine Focus that it will roll out its services in autumn after resolving key technical glitches.

The headache facing Vodafone comes in the form of the smooth handover that stops phone calls cutting out when a mobile user moves between the traditional cell network and the new 3G network. This is expected to be the main bane of network operators and users during the first few years of 3G.

Gent said that the company is looking at an autumn start across eight European countries simultaneously.

A spokesperson for Vodafone Ireland confirmed that the Irish operation would be included in this autumn rollout. “Last September we signed an exclusive contract with Nokia to roll out our 3G network and I can report that it is making good progress. It will be meeting a lot of criteria in time for an autumn launch.”

She continues: “Testing on the network has begun and the first 3G call on our network was made on 19 December and we have been doing all kinds of communications on the system since then.”

The spokesperson declined to say what level of geographic coverage would be included in the 3G launch in autumn.

However, reports suggest that Vodafone may be prompted to launch its 3G network in Germany as soon as June due to the threat of arch rival T-Mobile’s plans to launch its own network in the third quarter.

In related news, Hutchison 3G, which owns one of three Irish 3G licences, said that it will start dishing out handsets in Italy this week and in the UK this Friday. It says that it will have 700,000 available within three months in the UK and two million subscribers a piece in Italy and the UK by year’s end.

However, cash problems may railroad progress for Hutchison and the company was revealed today to have asked its three biggest shareholders – KPN, NTT DoCoMo and its parent company Hutchison – for a £1bn sterling loan. Hutchison 3G already owes the banks £1bn sterling, drawn down from a £2bn sterling credit line arranged in 2001.

As reported in siliconrepublic.com last week, a commentary by leading telecoms analyst Ovum said that greenfield operators such as Hutchison 3G, or 3, with no infrastructure or customers, will have a problematic start in the European mobile telecoms market and may eventually shut down. “It hopes no doubt for significant first-mover advantage. But the owners of 3 are rational and hard-headed businessmen who will set clear performance goals and pull the plug on their investment if it does not perform well rather than allow it to hemorrhage cash from their global business portfolio,” said Ovum analyst David Lewin.

By John Kennedy