Vodafone goes 3G for data only
No phones until October, though
Come March, you will be able to get wireless data at nearly 400K per second over a 3G link in the UK and Europe, courtesy of Vodafone. Come April, there will be a phone service. But there will not be any Vodafone 3G phones until October.
The problem facing the Vodafone network in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK over the next four weeks is simple enough: there aren't any decent 3G handsets. It's the same problem that has bedevilled Hutchison Whampoa's "3" service in Italy and the UK; few of the available phones are things many people would like to have to carry.
Vodafone staff, of course, couldn't be provoked into making any comments along those lines after the announcement, but they did go so far as to say that it certainly wasn't simply a question of pricing for voice calls.
However, it's hard to see why anybody would pay specifically for a 3G phone when Hutchison has bombed voice call pricing to the ground. And it's easy to see why business PC users would pay a reasonable premium to get mobile data at a reasonable - near broadband - speed of "up to 384 kilobits" per second.
What speed is that, in reality?
We'll have to wait to be sure. But you could be forgiven for confusion. As you will probably know, most ordinary GSM-based data services use GPRS, which is widely described as "running at 56 kilobits per second" or even "providing over 100 kilobits per second of data" - and both are, in theory, possible.
In reality, however, you will frequently find that GPRS data runs at under 20K except for very small file transfers.
Vodafone's description of its 3G data as being "up to ten times the speed of GPRS" gives a useful clue. It means that they know as well as the rest of us users what GPRS really provides, which is anything up to 38K, and frequently less.
The new data card (see picture) is most probably another Option-built device, like the GPRS-only card; this one, however, does both GPRS and 3G data.
They will probably not ship until October, is our guess. And the SIM card that comes with the data handset may well not be voice enabled, but we'll have more data on that shortly.
Coverage? "3G coverage is currently offered in most Vodafone markets in major cities and an increasing number of transport routes. When outside of 3G network coverage, the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS data card automatically switches to Vodafone's GPRS network, which offers full coverage, meaning Vodafone customers will have continuous access to their normal office applications," says the press release.
And 3G coverage "will be expanded continually by Vodafone over the next few years".
Chief Marketing Officer Peter Bamford didn't discuss data charges. Instead, he merely said: "The announcement of the launch of our 3G services is a major milestone in Vodafone's 3G journey."
He went on with customary marketing enthusiasm: "With significantly faster data rates and greater capacity, customers will really start to see and experience the huge benefits of 3G, by being able to do more, faster." It will be over to the sales department to deal with nitty-gritty details like pricing per megabyte.
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