Vodafone and T-Mobile join battle for broadband

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The Independent Online

The mobile telecoms groups Vodafone and T-Mobile have announced plans to launch a mobile broadband service in the UK that offers users download speeds three times faster than those available on mobile phones.

Vodafone launches its service tomorrow and T-Mobile will follow closely behind. T-Mobile is set to launch a high-speed mobile broadband data card in August and intends to have handsets available by the end of the year.

The Vodafone service will initially be available to business users as a data card to be used in laptops. The company will also have a limited range of mobiles offering broadband access available before Christmas for consumers to buy. A full range of handsets will be available in 2007. Mobile phone companies already offer internet access but the user experience has not been good enough to generate mass-market usage. As a result, mobile operators such as Vodafone and T-Mobile have invested in a technology called high-speed downlink packet access - HSDPA - which ramps up the speed and capacity of 3G networks. Rolling out HSDPA-enabled networks means internet access is faster and smoother and provides a service comparable to fixed-line broadband internet services provided by companies such as BT.

Nick Read, the chief executive of Vodafone UK, said: "This is the first time UK users will get the fixed-line broadband experience combined with the convenience of mobile. This represents a quantum leap for mobile internet users."

The service, called 3G Broadband, will offer download speeds of about 1.4 megabits per second. Mr Read said speeds of up to 14mbps will be available in the medium term. BT offers speeds of about 6mbps to fixed-line users.

Vodafone's 3G Broadband data card will cost £49 or could be included in the price of a laptop if the card is embedded in the machine. Users will then pay £45 a month for "all you can eat" internet access. For business users looking to travel in Europe, a £95-a-month roaming package will be available. Users can then access the internet in six countries, including Germany and France - plus Hong Kong - with more territories to be added.

Mr Read was confident 3G Broadband would help fight off the threat posed by Orange and Carphone Warehouse who offer free fixed-line broadband. He said Vodafone has about 80 per cent of the data card market and sells about 10,000 cards a month.

Mobile internet is a significant revenue driver for mobile operators looking to push mobile e-mail, video, music and instant messaging products. The EU has said laptop data cards are "the most significant data stream since the introduction of SMS".

The service will be available in London and surrounding areas, Greater Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield and Tyneside at first. Mr Read said about 90 per cent of the UK would have access to it by the end of the year.