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Vodafone Launches UMTS Service in Europe

After years in the planning, Europe's first UMTS service for laptops hits the market Monday. However, continuing problems with technology mean mobile phone users still have to wait until later this year for the service.


The Mobile Connect Card makes connections faster but only for laptop users.

The much anticipated arrival of third generation telecommunications technology will get underway in Europe now that the Vodafone Group launched its commercial UMTS service in Britain.

Customers will be able to switch between the carrier’s GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network and the higher-speed UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) network on their computers via the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS lap top data card, which will operate at data rates of up to 384 kilobits per second. The service will become available to networks in major cities in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden within four weeks of the U.K. launch.

It has been a long and expensive path for those telecommunications companies who paid a high price for mobile broadband licenses around Europe three years ago and Vodafone's first step into the new wireless market will be seen as the incentive for competitors to roll-out their products in an attempt to stay with the slowly gathering pace.

Data arrives ten times faster

Internet im Park Wireless LAN in öffentlichen Anlagen

The introduction of the card will enable Vodafone customers to access all their usual office applications like e-mail, calendar and internet at up to ten times the speed of GPRS. This will enable customers with a lap top to work anywhere just as if they are in the office.

Once the user moves outside 3G network coverage, the 3G/GPRS data card automatically switches to Vodafone's GPRS network allowing those on the move to "roam" throughout Europe while still being connected, albeit at a slower data speed.

While laptop users will get a jump on those other customers without them, those customers wanting UMTS technology on the telephone and palm top devices will have to wait. The data card will not be immediately available for these products.

Handset technology continues to hinder

Motorola A820 UMTS Handy

UMTS is waiting for the phones to catch up.

Vodafone has not commented on why there this is so but statements from the country imply that the blame has been placed at the door of the handset manufacturers with current telephony technology apparently not up to standard to cope with UMTS, the availability of light, low-power phones continuing to be a major challenge facing potential operators.

However, Vodafone’s chief marketing officer Peter Bamford issued a statement last week saying that the carrier plans to introduce additional devices and services for both business and consumer customers in the second half of this year this year but again this will depend on the availability of quality handsets.

UMTS costs set to mirror GPRS

Although pricing for the new Mobile Connect service will vary from country to country, estimates suggest the UMTS tariffs will be based on the current GPRS costs. In addition, to use the new service, customers must pay for a data card, monthly subscription and transmission usage.

The company's German subsidiary will offer customers two pricing options: one based on minutes; the other on data volume. Three different packages for each will be available, all expected to include an initial cost of around €70 ($89)with additional extras based on time or bytes.

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