Vodafone denies scaling back 3G plans

Vodafone Group is denying a report that it is scaling back its ambitions for bandwidth and multimedia services when it launches 3G (third-generation) wireless networks next year.

          Vodafone Group is denying a report that it is scaling back its ambitions for bandwidth and multimedia services when it launches 3G (third-generation) wireless networks next year.

          The Financial Times newspaper reported last Friday that the mobile telecommunication company plans to guarantee data speeds of up to 64Kbit/s, enough to improve the quality of existing messaging and text-based information services, but well below the transmission rate needed for live video or sound files.

          At that speed, even still pictures will take up to 12 seconds to download, the paper says, citing research by investment bank Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.

          "It's very inaccurate," says a Vodafone spokesman, who declined to be named, in accordance with company policy. "There will be sufficient data speed and capacity within the cell to meet our customers' demands for data products and services."

          Data rates will be between 64Kbit/s and 384Kbit/s at the time of Vodafone's UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) launch, scheduled for the second half of 2002, he adds, insisting that plans have not changed. All of Vodafone's majority-owned European subsidiaries -- including Germany's D2, Italy's Omnitel, and the Netherlands' Libertel NV -- will launch at about the same time, he says.

          The higher speeds will clear the way for "better, improved versions of the present services we've already had out there, as well as the opportunity for things like email, and internet access will be that much faster, that much more efficient," the spokesman says. However, multimedia applications like streaming video are "a few years down the line."

          Analysts say that as the hype about 3G fades away, its limitations are becoming clear: Especially in the early stages, with relatively few base stations, bandwidth per user will be limited.

          "The truth is, (64Kbit/sto 384Kbit/s are) the theoretical speeds 3G can support. The realistic speeds for a thin network at launch are going to be substantially less," says Jeremy Green, research director wireless at research and consulting company Ovum. "We're getting real and starting to tell people the truth, and it's about time we did this."

          Lars Vestergaard, research manager for wireless and mobile communications in Europe at International Data Corporation, says users may sometimes enjoy theoretical maximum data rates, but "to a large extent it's a matter of distance from the base stations, from where the signal is sent. If you are standing right underneath this particular mast, and you are the only user on the network, then you will get a higher bandwidth. But the likelihood is, you'll get a lower bandwidth." That situation, he adds, is likely to persist for some years as network buildout continues.

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