Vodafone makes deadline with subdued 3G launch

1 May 2003

Not only did Vodafone launch Ireland’s first 3G network on 1 May, it was also a European first for the global operator. The earlier than expected launch came as consequence of the 3G tendering process. When Vodafone won its licence it was committed to building a network that would cover a third of the population by the 1 May launch date.

While Vodafone has met this criterion it has already made it clear that a shortage of 3G handsets was likely to impede the delivery of a full commercial service from day one. Paul Donovan, Vodafone Ireland’s CEO, estimates that it will be 18 months to two years before 3G goes mass market. The network is live but only for a select group of corporate clients, though it is understood these are paying customers rather than participants in network trials.

Tariffs and services are currently based around Vodafone’s existing GPRS offerings. Using Nokia’s 6650 3G phone, customers will experience data transmission speeds of up to 144Kbps (kilobits per second) compared to around 30Kbps on GPRS.

The early launch is well in advance of the 1 January, 2004 deadline set by the regulator for all 3G applicants. It came about because the applicants were judged as a ‘beauty contest’. Vodafone deemed it necessary to table a ‘higher bid’ with an early launch to ensure a chance of winning. If the operator failed to make today’s date it is understood that it would have left itself open to penalties amounting to millions of euro.

The first phase of coverage includes Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Athlone, Bray, Carlow, Castlebar, Drogheda, Dundalk, Ennis, Kilkenny, Killarney, Letterkenny, Limerick, Mullingar, Naas, Navan, Newbridge, Portlaoise, Sligo, Tralee and Wexford.

Danuta Gray, CEO of O2 in Ireland, said her company is in no way disadvantaged by the launch of Vodafone’s 3G network. Speaking at the Digital Media Conference in Dublin, she stressed that mobile networks were about services that met people’s needs rather than infrastructure. “It’s not about the technology and I’m sure Vodafone would agree that it’s very early days,” she said. “There is still some way to go when it comes to opening up services that people can use.”

Gray wouldn’t comment on a specific launch date for O2’s 3G network other than to say that it would be before the end of the year.

Pictured: Paul Donovan, Vodafone Ireland’s CEO, estimates that it will be 18 months to two years before 3G goes mass market

By Ian Campbell