The 3G razzle dazzle is frazzled

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The Independent Online

A jerky, grainy video image of a bespectacled man appears on the screen, little more than 6cm square. The man waves and walks down London's Oxford Street, while talking away into his chunky blue phone.

A jerky, grainy video image of a bespectacled man appears on the screen, little more than 6cm square. The man waves and walks down London's Oxford Street, while talking away into his chunky blue phone.

Welcome to the future of mobile phones. Or, to be more precise, welcome to 3G. On demonstration is the first 3G phone, which the company "3" – owned by Hutchison Whampoa – will launch next month. It will be the public's first taste of this much-hyped technology.

The demonstration took place in one of 3's three stores, fashionably fitted out with white minimalist glass and plastic displays. But, sadly, the phones themselves are an anticlimax.

A company spokesman points out that what's being demonstrated is not the finished product. But there still seem to be few bells and whistles to encourage people to give up their old mobiles and shell out at least £399 for a 3 phone.

The company is touting video calls as its big selling point. But the poor picture quality does the invention no favours. 3 will not say how much video calls will cost, but they are likely to be at least 50 per cent more than for a normal mobile call.

When the mobile phone companies were hyping 3G, back in the halcyon days of 2000, there was plenty of talk of video streaming – watching live video across the net. But apart from video calls, 3 will not initially be offering that facility. It says its research shows that people want to own the video clips, by downloading them into the phone's memory. It's easy to understand why customers might want to save a clip of their football team scoring a goal. But 3 struggles to explain why anyone would want to keep an ITN news item.

Perhaps there's another reason for the lack of live video. 3's spokesman admits: "In network terms, it is more efficient to have downloads."

Football fans will also be able to have video clips of live games sent to their phones. But there's a catch: the footage comes from Sky, which is then sent to the BBC for editing before going on to 3. This, admits a 3 spokesman, means it could be an hour before highlights reach the customer. By then the match could be over and friends will have phoned up on their mobiles.

Based on this preview, it seems the 3G operators will have to add a little pace if they are going to tempt us.

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