With 2004 predicted to be the year many make their splash in 3G, Keith Dyer tours the continent in search of success stories.
There is little doubt amongst market watchers that 2004 is going to be the year of 3G in Europe. 2003 has seen some progress made, particularly the commercial launches from Hutchison 3G around the continent, and the major national players are expected to follow suit in 2004. Nokia Networks predicts there will be 50 W-CDMA networks in commercial use by the end of 2004, compared to the nine operators currently operating commercial networks.
Jean-Pierre Bienaim, president of the UMTS Forum, says that the industry is in good shape to make 2004 a year to remember, “2003 is the year of the real beginning of 3G in Europe and in 2004 there will be many more. There is now interoperability of the handsets, between the handsets and the network, between networks themselves and handsets availability is better. Most incumbents will launch 2004.” Bienaim also defends the rollout record of the industry, saying the overall rollout timetable is not too dissimilar to 2G. “Suppose most networks are launched by the end of 2005. That is comparable with the length of time to 2G.”
So with 2004 lined up as the year when 3G really makes it mark, which countries are leading the race and where is there more work to be done?
Six licenses were awarded in November 2000 by auction. Original licenses were awarded to Connect, Hutchison 3G, Mannesmann, Max.mobil, Mobilkom and 3G Mobile. Connect is now known as One, and max.mobil is under the T-Mobile umbrella as T-Mobile Austria. The Mannesman’s license has ended up in the hands of tele.ring, after the Vodafone deal with Mannesmann and then the takeover by Western Wireless International Corporation. Two operators have 3G networks launched in Austria. 3, of course is one, and the other is Mobilkom, the two operators have an agreement to let 3’s customers roam onto Mobilkom’s A1network for 2G services. 3 launched in May 2003 into Vienna, Graz and Linz. Mobilkom itself was first to market with an April 2003 commercial launch on a soft launch in September 2002. Mobilkom says that it increased its population coverage to 42%, erecting around 1,000 base stations, with Ericsson and Nortel jointly providing the infrastructure.
Despite the award in February 2001 of three licenses, nobody has yet made a commercial launch. Proximus (now in the Orange group), Mobistar and KPN were the three successful bidders for licenses. Of these Proximus, a subsidiary of Belgacom Group and Vodafone, claims to have taken the lead, saying that it will have a network launched “by 2005 at the latest,” which puts it ahead of the other market players, it claims. In February 2002, the Minister for Telecommunications, Public Enterprises and Participations decided to postpone for a further year the roll-out of UMTS (as written into the licenses allocated. The technical opening of the network was scheduled to take place before 15 September 2003, with a 30% coverage of the population before January 2006. Missed the first, still time for the second?
The Czech republic can report some progress, with Eurotel the first operator to make public a trial network, in February 2003. Two out of a possible three licenses were awarded back in December 2001, with RadioMobil, now part of the T-Mobile clan, the other awardee. Eurotel, which has a scaled down four base station trial network in the centre of Prague, supplied by Ericsson. It says it will offer commercial services from January 2005, in line with its license requirements.
In September 2001 three licenses were awarded although many in the Danish industry doubted the country could support three 3G providers. Hutchison is already well on the way to adding Denmark to its list of live operations, again working with Ericsson.
. Orange was forced to reveal Ericsson had not made it to its second round of suppliers, and Nortel, according to Alcatel, has not made the 3G grade at Bouygues, despite being its main 2G supplier. Orange has said it will have ten cities covered by the end of 2004. The others are vaguer and with Vodafone still prowling around SFR that may continue.
Again a case of one of the main countries not exactly racing to market. Blame a fair amount of market wrangling for that, as six initial licenses were awarded at great expense, followed by a rapid consolidation in the market. Mannesman Mobilfunk became Vodafone D2, VIAG fell O2 and Sonera’s Group 3G pulled out altogether. KPN’s E-Plus took over Mobilcom’s UMTS infrastructure in May 13, 2003 — 3,723 UMTS sites, of which 931 are equipped — for EUR 20 million. Vodafone and O2 have both fingered 2004 for launch. Here’s hoping.
EMT, Radiolinja Eesti (the country’s second largest operator) and Tele2 Eesti were issued licenses as recently as July 2003. There is a fourth license un-awarded with will go on auction up until March 2004. your entry fee for starters will be a minimum 70 million kroons. National operator EMT didn’t hang around after winning the license, making its first UMTS call in September 2003 on a two site trial network. Tinu Grunberg, R&D director at the operator says it is most likely there will be a commercial launch in early 2005.
With Vodafone having formally completed its purchase of Panafon expect things to hot up here this year. Especially with the spur of the Olympics when all eyes will be on the country. Not that Telestet needs any telling. The operator has soft launched a UMTS network, and knows it needs to keep working hard in this ultra-competitive market.
It seems a little surprising that after being the leading mobile country for so long, Finland can boast no official UMTS networks as yet. After four licenses were awarded in 2001 the big news was the merger of Sonera and Telia in December 2002. Radiolinja and Suomen 3G were the other initial winners. TeliaSonera has had UMTS networks of sorts since January 2002, but not until December 2003 will TeliaSonera have begun its pre-commercial UMTS services — inviting in users from outside of either the operator or its equipment suppliers onto the network. A few hundred users from companies who need the service for their own commercial development are now being asked onto the network to try it out. After they have had their say then the pre-commercial network will be expanded gradually before eventual full commercial launch. Steady as she goes.
went to press O2’s announcement of the launch of its 3G network in the country was thought to be imminent. Word was that O2 would be launching a limited network in the major cities to a small number of business and consumer customers. Full operation may be as far off as 2005, although there is potential to bring that forward to late 2003 as Hutchison and Vodafone make their presence felt. Vodafone opened its UMTS network in May 2003, making it the first to market, providing a limited number of Nokia 6650 phones to business partners. It now has 150 3G sites on air, and says it will double that by March 2004. 3 launched in October.
Five players in Italy made the grade for licenses, with the then Omnitel now being part of the Vodafone stable, of course. Italy is another territory for 3 and was one of the company’s first networks off the blocks, in March 2003.
TIM has made a name in Europe as one of the largest buyers of EDGE equipment, making their intentions clear on the road to 3G. Vodafone has launched a business trial for four corporate customers using dual mode GPRS/UMTS data cards on a free trial basis. Available in 13 cities the trial will be extended to 125 cities by the end of April 2004, the operator says, covering about 30% of the population. Wind has launched an i-Mode service in the country, in partnership with DoCoMo, as well as beginning deployment of its UMTS network in a few major cities.
A country slow to realise the beauties of 2G, and whose main manufacturer missed out the party, is keen not to be the bridesmaid this time around. Orange (once FT) and SFR (soon to be Vodafone, if the UK unit gets its way) were awarded initial licenses with Bouygues Telecom following a year later in May 2002. There have been some fun and games with suppliers in France, as detailed in past issues of Mobile Europe. Orange was forced to reveal Ericsson had not made it to its second round of suppliers, and Nortel, according to Alcatel, has not made the 3G grade at Bouygues, despite being its main 2G supplier. Orange has said it will have ten cities covered by the end of 2004. The others are vaguer and with Vodafone still prowling around SFR that may continue.
As far back as July 200 five licenses were awarded in The Netherlands, and since then, what? Ben (now T-Mobile), Dutchtone, (now Orange), KPN Libertel (now Vodafone) and Telfort all made it to the starting line, although it’s easily seen how many changes there have occurred since then. Vodafone Libertel was the first operator in the country to begin UMTS network rollout, covering 20% of the population by September 2003 and following its usual policy of opening up the network to selected business users in the first instance.
Another country that has undergone considerable changes since the initial award. Tele2 and Broadband Mobile returned their licenses, one of which was taken up by Hi3G Access (Hutchison) Norway, in September 2003. Apart form that there are no commercial UMTS networks as yet in Norway, despite the presence of Telenor and Netcom (TeliaSonera).
Licenses were originally awarded to
OniWay (now repealed), Optimus,
Telecel (now Vodafone) and TMN. Vodafone appears to be some way off turning its UMTS license into a network launch, as does TMN. Portugal is being circled by all the infrastructure vendors as they sniff the imminent award of contracts.
Things have moved a little further in Spain, where Telefonica is whetting he appetite of the equipment providers after making it clear it is back on the market for a supplier after being unsatisfied with its original provider. its trial network got underway in October 2003 in a fairly limited way offering UMTS PCMCIA cards to business users. TelefÃ³nica MÃ³viles EspaÃ±a plans to invest around Euro1 billion in 3G infrastructure between 2003-2006. The company’s target is to have coverage in the 52 provincial capitals of Spain by the end of this year and between 7,000 and 8,000 UMTS base stations in 2005.Airtel (Vodafone), Amena, TelefÃ³nica MÃ³viles and Xfera are the license holders. Vodafone’s roll-out with its principal supplier Nortel, began in August 2002 but as yet there is no commercial launch. Lucent Technologies has signed an agreement with the Andalusian Regional Government to deploy a UMTS network for a business and technology park in Seville
Again the entry of Vodafone following its purchase of Europolitan has been a big move, and Sweden is one of the country’s blessed with a live commercial network from 3 (Tre). Tele2 has partnered with Telis for RAN investment, an example of network sharing that, with regulatory approval, could prove attractive for other smaller players.
Switzerland too was one of the first countries to make the 3 roster, and the market is served by the usual suspect big players, including Orange and Swisscom Mobile, a Vodafone Live partner 25% owned by Vodafone. Swissscom has over 500 base stations installed to date, providing coverage for over 50% of the Swiss population. Selected users are he;ping Swisscom optimise the UMTS network.
3 is market leader, having launched in May 2003, the same as in Switzerland. Early complaints about customer service and poor quality phones need to be overcome as Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and O2 all look likely to go for launch in 2004. Â