Vendors promise 3G handsets by year's end

Though the term 3G (third-generation) wasn't quite the buzz word at CeBIT this year that it was last year, a number of mobile-handset makers have said at the show they will have 3G handsets ready for the European mass market by the end of this year.

Early in the show, Nokia Corp. announced a Sept. 26 launch date for its first mass-market 3G mobile-phone service and handsets. The Espoo, Finland-based company stressed that when commercial 3G services and handsets from Nokia and its partners hit the market, it would not be a "techno launch" but a true mass-market launch. Motorola Inc. sounded a much more cautious note when it came to its upcoming 3G handsets. Mike Zafirovski, president of Motorola's personal communication sector said that the Schaumburg, Illinois-based company would be releasing 3G handsets by the end of the year, but wouldn't give a specific date and cautioned that he wasn't expecting the 3G market to really start expanding until 2003.

"We are very confident that we will have a 3G dual-mode handset before the year is out," Zafirovski said in a press conference here on Wednesday. The first Motorola 3G handset to hit stores in the U.K., Germany and Italy should be the 2820 model, he said.

Motorola is partnering with Hutchison 3G UK Holdings Ltd. and two German operators that Zafirovski said could not yet be announced. "Handsets will be available in the third quarter with Hutchison and we expect to have 300,000 to 400,000 3G units out with Hutchison by the year's end," he added.

Siemens AG said it expects its first 3G handsets for the European market to be available by the fourth quarter, according to Siemens spokesman Michael Leyer.

Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB is aiming for some sort of 3G product launch in Europe by the end of the year, though as with Motorola, the company is more focused on 2003 in terms of a wider product launch.

"We are about to ship the first 3G test units to operators and will have a commercial product by the end of the year, with volume ramping up next year," said Sony Ericsson spokesman Peter Bodor.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. plans to be a bit behind the competition in an effort to make sure that its handsets work well, rather than rushing to market, said Samsung spokeswoman Denise Clark.

"We plan to have a product for trial at the end of this year, or the beginning of next year. We want to have good talks with operators in order to make phones that can support the services they intend to offer," Clark said.

Mobile operating system vendor Symbian Ltd. declined to comment on whether the first round of 3G handsets to hit the market in Europe would carry its OS.

"It's really difficult to predict how many vendors will launch 3G with a proprietary OS, but some of the vendors that do that will then move over to Symbian. For example, Nokia is using its own OS now but we are working to replace Nokia OS with Symbian OS and Nokia has said that it will work with us to do so," said Paul Cockerton, Symbian's spokesman.

According the Cockerton, it is simply standard practice for companies to introduce early products to market and to then follow up with improved versions later.

"While 3G has certainly come a lot farther than last year, due to a number of factors -- not the least of which is an uncertain economic climate -- the vendors and mobile-phone operators are much more focused on getting GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or 2.5G handsets out there and making sure that killer applications for the new technologies like MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) receive widespread acceptability," Cockerton said.

"But of course, it's important to keep up some sort of buzz on 3G," he added.

(Joris Evers, Amsterdam Correspondent, contributed to this report.)

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