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CeBit: Little 3G buzz this year

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An acronym that had dominated headlines at previous CeBit shows seemed to be little more than a footnote at this year's event. The buzz that once accompanied 3G (third-generation) broadband mobile internet appears to have fizzled out even before the service has taken off.

Grabbing the attention this year were wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that are, above all, available.

Indeed, handset availability, which dogged the start of GSM (global service for mobiles) in Europe over a decade ago, threatens to trip mobile operators eager to expand into the market for high-speed mobile internet services.

Continuing a troubling trend in the European mobile industry, Jürgen von Kuczkowski, head of Vodafone's German unit, said last week in Hanover that the operator will delay the launch of commercial 3G service, this time until the second half of 2003 and only then if enough handsets are available.

But Kuczkowski was quick to defuse speculation of possible difficulties, should the operator be forced to announce yet another delay. "There will be no Big Bang" when the German subsidiary launches 3G, he said. "It's not at all important if you start a few weeks earlier or later."

For the record, the delay has been nearly a year. Vodafone has been paying interest on a huge loan for its €8.5bn (£5.8bn) 3G license acquired more than two years ago, while generating zero revenue from the new mobile broadband service during this time.

Now Kuczkowski is talking about testing 3G with a select number of business users over the next few months. He has also dropped some price points: 3G handsets will cost around €300 (£204) and fees for the new high-speed packet-based data services will be low enough to compete with the competition. Those remarks were aimed at rival T-Mobile, which announced plans ahead of CeBit to cut its mobile data fees for GPRS (general packet radio service) by up to 70 percent, with handsets to range from €100 to €500 (£80 to £300 approx).

To date, only Motorola's A830 is in the shops. At CeBit, the company also introduced its new A835, a dual-mode phone that operates on both 3G and GSM networks.

Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson presented phones at CeBit. The companies weren't, however, saying exactly when and in what quantities they would deliver.

The Italian and UK subsidiaries of Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa have been forced to delay the full launch of their 3G services because of handset shortages.


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