Vodafone's 3G network is up and running

Carrier will offer music, movies, TV, cartoons, video calls and pr0n on handsets

Vodafone has launched its 3G network in New Zealand with a hiss and a roar and a promise of much more to come.

Vodafone's much-touted video call capability was there for all to see, in the form of a call to Grant Dalton at the Team New Zealand base across the Viaduct Basin from Vodafone, albeit with limited quality for both video and sound quality.

However, Vodafone isn't simply pushing the videophone capability. It's also signed up with a number of major record labels to offer 300,000 songs available for download to the handsets immediately and has launched its own mobile TV offering — something it claims is a first for New Zealand, despite Telecom's T3G TV clip service.

Vodafone's mobile TV offering includes movie trailers, music videos and TV news from Sky TV as well as TV3. Vodafone is also offering a wide array of local and international cartoons and will be offering a soap opera developed specifically for mobile phones, as well as a series of "mobisodes" from the makers of TV drama 24.

Business users are also taken into account and a Vodafone 3G Mobilise card for PC-based laptops is available.

At launch Vodafone will have five handsets, with a further ten due to be added before Christmas. That number is expected to double in the first year of operation. A 3G version of the popular BlackBerry handset, which pushes email to the user, won't be available before Christmas, however.

Speed wise, Vodafone is still lagging behind Telecom. The 3G network will run at around 350kbit/s for downloads, and a maximum of 64kbit/s upstream. Telecom's T3G network has a download speed of around 500kbit/s, bursting up to 1Mbit/s.

However, Vodafone isn't concerned at the speed shortfall. The company will continue to use its compression technology to boost the "apparent" speed for most email and web surfing needs, and claims most users will find the Vodafone experience better.

Vodafone's coverage is, however, superior to Telecom's on launch. Vodafone already covers the metropolitan areas, including Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Napier/Hastings, Nelson, New Plymouth, Rotorua, Queenstown, Tauranga, Taupo and Wellington, as well as Coromandel.

Telecom promises to cover all those urban areas and more by Christmas.

Pricewise, the new handsets cost between $750 and $1,000. Video calls are free until the end of October and will then cost the same as voice calls until August 2006.

Each song will cost $3.50, making it more expensive than other online music retailers in New Zealand, and access to the mobile TV offerings starts off at $1 for 24 hours' access to the whole range or $2 a week from there on in.

Unlike TelstraClear, which recently pulled its adult entertainment channel, Vodafone 3G will be offering a range of adult choices, including video clips, tips and games. Vodafone's brochure promises to "keep your hands full for a whole 24 hours".

Data plans range from $45 a month (excluding GST) for 50MB of traffic through to $149 excluding GST for 1GB.

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