January 02, 2002, 10:43 AM — Telecommunication operator Sonera Corp. is celebrating the new year by announcing the start of its UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) services in Finland's four largest cities.
Currently operating in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Oulu, Tampere and Turku, the services "will be expanded in future based on commercial demand," Sonera said in a statement Tuesday.
But there is a catch. Handsets needed to take advantage of the high-speed data and multimedia services promised by UMTS are not yet available. For the time being the network will be limited to testing by the company. Sonera was required under the terms of its government license to launch the network by the start of 2002.
"Of course we are depending on what handset manufacturers are saying, but basically the plan is to provide a commercial service in the last part of this year," said Jyrki Karasvirta, a Sonera spokesman. He could offer no details on handset availability, adding that Finnish mobile-phone operators are prohibited by law from providing handsets directly to customers.
The long-awaited 3G (third-generation) service has faced repeated delays in Europe. MMO2 PLC, British Telecommunications PLC's (BT's) newly spun-off wireless division, announced last month that its first network, serving a few customers on the Isle of Man, is operating, but acknowledged more delays are ahead before mass-market service in the U.K. will be ready.
Karasvirta said that even when the 3G service is launched, he expects most customers to adopt it slowly.
"If you look at the experience we gained first from WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and then from GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), the number of people who will buy new handsets is quite small," he said. "Today we have some 10,000 GPRS users, while we have 2.4 million mobile-phone users. The same phenomenon actually took place with WAP; very few people bought WAP phones when they heard about it -- however today over 50 percent of phones sold have WAP. This clearly indicates that the group of early adopters is quite small, and then the great masses accept the new services when they buy a new handset anyway," which, he added, Finnish users do an average of every two-and-a-half years.
Sonera's UMTS network equipment is supplied by Sweden's L.M. Ericcson Telephone Co. and by Finland's Nokia Corp. Sonera expects its spending on the network to total some 500 million euros (US$445 million) between 2000 and 2009.