The wait for 3G (third-generation) cellular services ended today, at least for some of 4,500 lucky Japanese users, as NTT DoCoMo launched public trials of its UMTS, or 3G mobile services.

"Today is a valuable day as we open the first page of the 21st century's mobile telecommunications," said Keiji Tachikawa, president of NTT DoCoMo, at the launch of the service, branded Foma.

This is the first opportunity the general public in any country has had to get its hands on WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access) telephones. The public trials are scheduled to last four months after which DoCoMo plans a full commercial launch.

DoCoMo's trial is a blow for BT, which had to hold off its Isle of Man trials recently due to handset problems. Some commentators claim BT had to wait on getting faulty NEC handsets fixed because DoCoMo wanted to be first to the 3G tape.

During the trials users will be asked to pay call and data charges but will not have to pay basic monthly fees or pay for the handsets.

But not all trial participants will be able to use the service straight away. The company has only just begun making handsets and terminals, produced by NEC and Matsushita, available to users.

DoCoMo announced last Friday that the videophone, the highest profile handset of the three available, would not be launched for another month because of continuing technical problems.