02 shows its hand for 3G services

O2 has finally announced its plans for entry into the 3G market, but is still planning on taking things very slowly

O2 has fleshed out its long-expected 3G plans, though it seems to be in no hurry to catch up with launches from its main UK rivals -- T-Mobile, Orange and Vodafone.

The operator has settled on a combined wireless offering called O2 Connection Manager. It brings together GPRS, 3G and wireless LAN connectivity, through deals with The Cloud and BT Openzone.

However, the Sunday launch -- flagged by ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com last week -- comes with a degree of caution and what some will see as a side-swipe at rivals such as Vodafone.

Dave McGlade, O2 UK CEO, said in a statement: "O2 understands that in mobile it's not about being first to market but delivering on customer service promises... As an industry we have a track record of hyping technology before it is ready. Instead we should be launching it only when it has the right customer experience. At O2 we are committed to breaking this cycle."

He predicted mass market adoption of 3G won't happen until the end of next year and in the meantime O2 will concentrate on serving specific needs, for example those of small businesses. Its 3G rollout kicks off with coverage only earmarked for "20 major cities and towns" this year.

The still-cautious approach is unlikely to be shared at Vodafone, which last week added to its data card business offering with 10 different handsets from six manufacturers for a Christmas 3G push.

O2's GPRS/3G data card will initially cost £110 ex VAT "for customers on high value data tariffs". They are being supplied by Novatel Wireless, which has had some notable success in the 3G card market.

While various operators have talked about data cards that also integrate silicon for wireless LAN - or Wi-Fi - connectivity, most are for now assuming end users will have such functionality built into their laptops.

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