Carphone Warehouse will become the world's first virtual 3G network operator when it begins selling the 3G Nokia 7600 handset next month, the company announced on Thursday.
Buyers of the 7600 will get access to the 3G network of 3 UK, a unit of Hutchison Whampoa, but will not have access to certain of 3's premium services. All support will be carried out by Carphone Warehouse, which will sell the handset exclusively through its 500-plus shops throughout the UK.
The companies arrived at the deal because of a controversial feature, or rather lack thereof, of the 7600: it does not support video calling, one of the main services hawked by 3. Discussing the 7600 last month, Nokia explained that it does not see video calling as a popular service this year, simply because videophone owners will have no one else to call. In the near term Nokia is focusing on multimedia content such as videos, music and images, the company said.
That position is at odds with the strategy of 3, which has the UK's only functioning 3G network so far, and is hoping to encourage the spread of video-call-enabled handsets, paving the way for video-calling services to eventually take off. Nokia is the mobile phone market leader, accounting for more than a third of all handsets sold worldwide, and its decisions carry considerable weight in the market.
Nokia 7600 users will have access to 3's network and to some data services, such as news bulletins, comedy programming and horoscopes, but will not be able to access premium services such as Premier League and MTV video clips.
The 7600 has an unusual teardrop shape, and measures 87mm x 78mm x 18.6mm, weighing 123g with battery. It can download or stream multimedia content and includes a camera and video recorder. The dual-mode GSM/WCDMA handset has a 128x160 pixel, 65,536-colour display.
3 sells handsets made by NEC and Motorola. At least three of the UK's biggest network operators, O2, Orange, Vodafone and T-Mobile, are planning 3G launches this year.
In a related announcement on Thursday, Nokia launched its 6620 handset, the first to support EDGE data networks, designed to be a step up from GPRS. The 6620, designed for the Americas market, is the first EDGE-based handset to use the Symbian operating system for smartphones.