3G begins to gather momentum, but vexing issues remain

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Plans for the initial roll out of 3G (third generation) wireless networks have been announced for several countries this month, although analysts say use of the high-speed data networks will grow slowly due to high usage costs and low handset availability.

Taiwan on Friday joined a growing list of countries announcing dates for their 3G rollouts. Asia Pacific Broadband Wireless Communications Inc. (APBW) plans to launch a 3G wireless service there in the third quarter using equipment from Nortel Networks Corp., according to a Nortel statement.

The network, based on CDMA2000 1X (code division multiple access) technology, will offer data services at speeds up to 153K bps (bits per second), Nortel said in a statement. In the Taipei metropolitan area APBW will offer a peak rate of 2.4M bps, Nortel said.

3G networks will offer high data speeds, allowing carriers to offer new services such as video streaming, video links, and fast downloads. The 3G networks will improve the carriers' capacity overall, allowing them to cope with subscriber growth.

In Hong Kong, Hutchison 3G HK Ltd. announced on July 14 that NEC Corp. and Siemens AG are to provide the radio network of its WCDMA (wideband CDMA) network. The two companies have already worked with Hutchison in building networks in the U.K. and Italy. Hutchison 3G HK plans to launch its service in August.

On July 20, Siemens AG announced that the first commercial 3G network in the Middle East -- in Bahrain -- will launch in early 2004. Siemens plans to install a new network for Kuwaiti telecommunications company MTC Vodafone Co. that includes GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), GPRS, EDGE and WCDMA, it said. Earlier in the month, on July 10, Nokia Corp. and Greek operator STET Hellas Telecommunications SA (known as Telestet) announced that they had publicly demonstrated a call over Telestet's WCDMA 3G network. Telestet has already set up 3G networks in Athens and Salonica, it said, and plans to launch the first services toward the end of the year.

While 3G networks are being built internationally, high usage costs and handset supply problems will hold back widespread use until around 2005, Neil Mawston, a U.K. senior analyst with Strategy Analytics Inc. of Boston said.

"(3G) will be relatively limited for the next few years. Speeds are still slow, costs high and the technology is still immature," Mawston said.

Jason Chapman, a principal analyst with Gartner Inc. in the U.K., agreed with Mawston's 2005 predictions. "Things are slowly moving forward but note that these announcements are coming mostly from the equipment suppliers rather than the carriers, and it may be another year before they're available. Having said that, these announcements do show that there is momentum. Carriers are still awarding contracts, they haven't lost faith."

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