Vodafone is launching its first full third-generation mobile services in Europe, with Portugal and Germany to go live this week.
Vodafone plans more services for Europe at a later date
The firm has enlisted Samsung to make handsets for the service, but hopes to expand its range in the coming months.
The roll-out will be concentrated in densely populated urban areas, covering about 30% of the population.
It is planned as the prelude for a much wider launch of 3G mobile technology around Europe.
T-Mobile, the mobile arm of Deutsche Telekom, has responded with its own launch of 3G phone services.
In Germany, up to 400 cities will have access for people using Nokia 7600 handsets.
A T-Mobile launch of 3G in the UK is planned for later this year.
The mobile industry has high hopes for 3G, which will allow phone customers to use a wide range of high-speed and high-quality multimedia services, including video and music.
The new 3G technology promises to provide data transfers at near-broadband speeds.
Some experts though are dubious about the quality of videos sent using 3G.
It has taken time for firms to launch their 3G services and the consumer market has also shown less interest than expected.
Technical glitches have forced operators, which spent 100bn euros for European licences, to delay 3G launches.
Technology analysts are even saying that it is data on the move, not video calls, that will drive the market.
Vodafone already has 3G business coverage up and running in Italy and Germany using laptop connections and launched services to business customers in the UK in April.
T-Mobile has similar laptop card services in Europe.
The Japanese are well ahead of Europe with mobile phone users, particularly younger people, using e-mails and pictures on a regular basis.