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Operators sign up for cheap 3G handsets

3G for All

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Twelve operators have announced their support for the GSMA-sponsored "3G for All" programme to develop a cheap 3G handset with video, music, instant messaging and fast(ish) internet access.

Cingular Wireless, Globe Telecom, Hutchison 3G, KTF, MTN, Orange, Smart, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, T-Mobile, and Vodafone will evaluate handset designs and agree on a single low-cost handset they will all buy to drive up volumes.

The winner will be announced at 3GSM in February next year, and the handset will be available to any operator. The 12 participants are just signed up to take part in the selection process and in return will commit to buying quite a few handsets - though they aren't saying how many.

The last time the GSMA did this kind of thing was their Emerging Market Handset (EMH), which signed up a number of operators in the developing world. They selected a $40 GSM handset from Motorola. That price came down to $30 earlier this year with the endorsement of Motorola extended until the end of 2006 - by which time they reckon they'll have sold 20 million of the C113 and C113a handsets.

Getting any kind of phone down to $30 is impressive, but repeating the trick with 3G will be a much greater challenge, as recognised by the intention to sell the 3G for All handset into both developed and developing markets.

But with video, music, instant messaging, and internet access yet to prove profitable in developed markets, it isn't as easy to see how 3G for All will have the same kind of impact as the EMH. Perhaps it will just let network operators around the world waste money developing services no one wants, just like the European operators do. ®

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