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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 18:51 GMT
Vodafone launches rival to wi-fi
Man using wi-fi laptop
Wireless internet on the move remains elusive
Mobile telecoms giant Vodafone has said it is launching third generation (3G) mobile wireless services in Germany and Italy.

But the service will not involve 3G handsets, nor will users be able to make phone calls.

Instead, Vodafone will sell a plug in card to bring laptop PC users high speed data on the move.

If successful, the service which will be restricted to business users, could pose a threat to wi-fi technology.

Trial system

The system is being launched to test Vodafone's 3G networks in Germany and Italy, and may eventually be extended to mobile handsets, Reuters news agency reported.

"It's realistic to expect that we will bring handsets into the friendly user trials at some point, but we're starting now with PC cards and data calls only," Reuters quoted a Vodafone spokeswoman as saying.

Third generation mobile phones that could deliver mobile video and data was seen by mobile phone firms as huge future earner when they ran up heavy debts bidding for 3G licences in the late 1990s.

But technological problems have led to delays in launching 3G in Europe, prompting rival equipment manufacturers to explore teaming up to cut costs.

Miracle or mirage?

Hutchison Whampoa launched Europe's first 3G services in the UK and Italy in March, branded as 3. It had just over half a million subscribers by August and has predicted one million by end-2003.

Close up of 3G phone
3G offers games, video and data services

But Hutchison said last week it may have to delay 3's breakeven date to 2006 or step up investment to overcome problems, one of which is a shortage of handsets caused by testing delays at Japanese firm NEC.

The news gave a fillip to shares in rival mobile operators.

Vodafone's approach to 3G involves laptop insert cards developed by Dutch firm Option International and US telecoms engineer Lucent.

"The handsets will arrive next year, but until they can offer better services than at the moment, we will not sell them," said Vodafone Italia spokesman.

Vodafone's PC-based technology could pose a threat to builders of wireless broadband networks based on wi-fi hotspots.

Wi-fi allows people to use wireless internet but only in locations fitted with its technology, offering limited mobility.

Vodafone's system potentially offers full access to wireless internet on the move, but is not being offered to individual consumers.

In the UK, makers of wi-fi equipment include Toshiba, Cloud and BT.

Hutchison upbeat on 3G prospects
21 Aug 03  |  Business
Shares hit as 3G price war starts
06 Jun 03  |  Business
Wi-fi will be 'next dot.com crash'
20 Jun 03  |  Business
3G goes live in the UK
03 Mar 03  |  Technology
EU phone chief warns on 3G delay
16 Dec 02  |  Business
People confused by wi-fi jargon
10 Aug 03  |  Technology

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