T-Mobile bets big on 3G

CIOL Bureau
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Boris Groendahl

HANOVER: T-Mobile, Europe's second-largest mobile phone operator, will start selling third-generation (3G) multimedia handsets from May and hopes the service will boost revenues, it said on Thursday. T-Mobile, controlled by Europe's largest telecoms carrier Deutsche Telekom, looks set to become the first major European operator to bring 3G handsets to market.

Chief Executive Rene Obermann told Reuters at the technology CeBIT trade fair in the north western city of Hanover that he hoped to sell tens of thousands of quality music- and picture-enabled 3G phones and laptop cards in the months after the launch in Germany, Britain and Austria.

"We want to sell a five-digit number of phones in those three countries in the first months after the launch," Obermann said. "This will help to boost revenues. Our goal is to bring (monthly) data revenues above five euros in Germany this year."

However, this is just a tiny part of the group's total 20 million handsets sold annually in those three countries.

Operators spent 100 billion euros ($123 billion) on licenses to provide 3G in Europe in the hope that the service will enable them to tap new revenue streams by beefing up voice services with music, video and picture services.

But 3G has suffered years of delays as technical glitches forced operators to postpone launches.

Vodafone Group Plc, Europe's top mobile phone group, said the handsets were still too bulky and unreliable, with too short battery lives, to start selling them to customers.


In another presentation at CeBIT on Wednesday, rival mmO2 Plc tried twice to show a clip from Sofia Coppola's film "Lost in Translation" on the Nokia 7600 phone to demonstrate the phone it will sell as its first 3G phone in the second quarter.

But twice the fourth-largest mobile group in Britain and Germany failed to get a connection.

However, all operators agree that progress was made in the last months and that a range of handset models will be available in volume at some point this year.

T-Mobile is dubbing its range of new services, which will include 3G, "T-Mobile Multimedia," or "TM3". But it noted it did not want TM3 to be identified with the new mobile standard.

"TM3 is more than 3G," Obermann said. "We intend to avoid using the terms '3G', (and interim technologies) 'GPRS', 'WAP', 'GSM' our customer communication and will instead combine everything in this generic term."

T-Mobile will also start selling a 3G laptop card in May, largely to business customers, in addition to phones made by Nokia of Finland, its second-ranked rival Motorola and by South Korea's Samsung.

Obermann said its network would also encompass Wi-Fi, a separate high-speed wireless Internet access, which allows users to use their laptops in cafes, hotels or airport lounges.

"We have made a unique step in integrating all those services," he said.

KPN-owned rival E-Plus, Germany's third-biggest mobile operator, and fourth-ranked O2 Germany, owned by mmO2, both announced on Wednesday plans for 3G laptop cards that offer Internet speeds of up to 384 kilobits per second.

E-Plus has said it would start selling its first 3G handsets in the summer, O2 Germany sees them in the second quarter.

Vodafone has said it will have one or two 3G handsets available in the first half of the year, although it expects a greater range of models in the second half of the year.

© Reuters