3G licence holders: A spent force?

The amount of money spent on third-generation mobile licences in Europe is staggering. In the UK and Germany alone, over £52bn (E85.5bn) has been spent by mobile telcos who think they can't afford to miss out.

The amount of money spent on third-generation mobile licences in Europe is staggering. In the UK and Germany alone, over £52bn (E85.5bn) has been spent by mobile telcos who think they can't afford to miss out.

For months, there have been mutterings among the IT cognoscenti that the companies who have forked out this cash have no clear idea how to plough their investment back. That's a charge they deny of course. But two gurus from Finland - a country whose population has been using mobiles longer than the rest of us - have added weight to the 'have the telcos gone mad?' movement. Meanwhile Belgacom is the latest major telco to say it refuses to overpay when its domestic auction rolls around. The Finns reckon the amounts paid out were stupid - partly because no one wants to watch video on a small screen, partly because enhanced 2G technology (call it '2.5G') can handle most of the applications supposedly the preserve of 3G. The argument is fairly compelling - but not watertight. This industry is full of instances where a clever technology was launched without any obvious applications, but went on to become a roaring success (the PC being one of them). And some of the licence owners have been cunning enough to plan ahead. Orange's purchase of the Ananova technology was widely lambasted, but the company has been working on mobile video phones for some time. There's much talk in the industry at the moment about 'humanising the web' - something which a virtual, personalised 'character' could go a long way to achieving. Vodafone spent a small fortune - £30m (E49.3m) - on sponsoring Manchester United. That move surprised some people - but highlights of football games might well work on a mobile platform. Manchester United fans are everywhere (other than Manchester) and would probably pay for the privilege of seeing goals on their phones. Not every company will cash in from the 3G revolution. But then you wouldn't expect that. But there will be successes. So don't right off 3G just yet. There may well be a killer application out there just waiting to happen.