3 warms to business services

The 3G operator is laying the groundwork for data services on its European network, as competition mounts

Three, the international 3G network backed by Hutchison Whampoa, has made its first steps toward offering business-oriented data services, an area soon to be exploited by other 3G operators in Europe.

The company said on Monday that it is deploying Cisco infrastructure for data services on its Italian network. Cisco's Mobile Exchange framework, including switches, routers and software, links radio networks to IP networks and enables billing for data-based services; it is used by providers of 2G, 2.5G, 3G and Wi-Fi services.

The Cisco platform will enable 3 Italy to launch a data service called 3 for Business Open, which will be available to business and consumer users on conventional or pre-paid contracts, the company said. Three also operates networks in the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Australia and Hong Kong.

So far, the company's strategy has centred on handset-based, consumer-oriented services such as video downloads and video calling.

Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and O2 are in the process of launching 3G services in the UK. Unlike 3, competitors are initially targetting 3G services at business users with 3G cards for laptops: T-Mobile and Vodafone are not initially offering telephony services or handsets.

Even when handsets become available for the networks of T-Mobile and Vodafone, they may not support video calling, a further blow to 3's strategy. Nokia, the largest handset maker, has said it does not see video calling as a popular service in the near term, and its first 3G handset for the UK supports only video downloads.

Currently, only a small range of mobile phone handsets are available for 3G services, but major manufacturers are finally beginning to add to the selection. Sony Ericsson's Z1010 is to launch sometime this quarter, as the company's first 3G entry. Nokia launched its 3G-capable 7600 handset last month.

Earlier phone shortages had caused revenue problems for Hutchison Whampoa, 3's parent company.