Vodafone refuses to clarify launch date for 3G services

The mobile phone operator Vodafone yesterday refused to be pinned down to a firm launch date for its third-generation mobile phone service in the UK other than to reiterate it planned to go live at some point next year.

The company, which had originally planned to launch its 3G service in the second half of this year, said the system would now be available for consumers to use from 2003. A spokesman also reiterated the company's belief that its 3G service, which is expected to offer users faster access to the internet and video clips on mobile devices, would not become a mass market proposition until 2004.

The move came after Vodafone admitted it would only manage to launch a trial 3G service in the UK this year – in line, it said, with plans it set out two months ago. Consequently, it denied its consumer 3G launch had been delayed, insisting that it had already stated its initial 3G offering in 2002 would be little more than a trial. "We would argue it's not a delay," a spokesman said.

While the company had originally pledged a 2002 launch date, Sir Christopher Gent, the company's chief executive, confirmed two months ago that the network would originally undergo trials prior to a consumer launch. "Initially, 3G networks will be opened to conduct a series of 'friendly-user' trials, leading up to full-scale roll-out following completion of user product acceptance testing," he said in May.

Sir Christopher said then that the company had not planned to promote the service this year because it did not think there would be enough so-called dual-mode handsets, phones that will work on current networks and on 3G networks, on the market.

While analysts agreed with that, they said yesterday they suspected Vodafone might have encountered other problems, possibly to do with the network. They also noted that it did not bode well for 3, formerly Hutchison 3G, which insists it will still launch a 3G service in the UK toward the end of this year.

Separately, Vodafone said it had spent €88m (£56m) on lifting its shareholding in two European companies. It now owns 54.1 per cent of Vodafone Telecel-Comunicacoes Pessoais in Portugal and 73.1 per cent of Europolitan Vodafone in Sweden.

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