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O2 on Monday announced that its 3G network is in operation and is currently being piloted by a number of customers.

The company is required under ComReg licensing conditions to open its network before the end of this year. Vodafone already made a similar announcement in May of this year, when it revealed that its 3G network was being used by a number of selected business clients. The other license holder 3, owned by Hutchison Whampoa, has yet to make an announcement on the opening of its Irish 3G network, although communications regulator ComReg said in its last quarterly update that 3 had in fact started services.

O2 announced that some 25 customers have been equipped with Nokia 6650 handsets and are using O2's 3G network for their voice and data communications. The customers are using the service on a pilot basis and, as such, are not paying for it at present. A spokesperson for O2 said that it was envisaged that they would become paying customers after a number of months. In addition to voice services, the company said that initial applications would centre around high speed Internet access as well as video messaging and other multimedia services.

The company said that its 3G network coverage extends to over 35 per cent of the population and covers major urban centres such as Dublin city and county and the cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny. O2 said that it would continue expanding its 3G network across the country over the coming months.

O2 was unable to give an exact date as to when the service would be fully available on a commercial basis. The company said that it hoped to bring mass market 3G services to Ireland in the second part of 2004 and into 2005. However, according to O2, the availability of a range of good quality handsets is the main deciding issue on a launch date.

"We are pleased with the progress we have made in building an extensive 3G network and making it available to a limited number of customers," said Niall Norton, chief financial officer at O2 Ireland. "However, the success of 3G will be dependent on the availability of good quality handsets at competitive prices and on the growing market demand for compelling data services. We intend to be an industry leader in providing 3G services in Ireland and are committed to a long term investment strategy to ensure its success as a quality, customer friendly service."

© ENN

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