BT had been planning to launch the world's first commercial third-generation mobile phone network in the small community of the Isle of Man later this month, but it has now admitted that the network isn't ready. According to Monday's Daily Telegraph the problem is a software glitch in the handsets supplied by Japanese manufacturer NEC, which prevents calls moving between base stations if a user is on the move.
While NEC insists that such glitches are inevitable with any new technology and don't indicate a new problem for 3G, analysts suspect that the delay is really due to a similar postponement by NTT DoCoMo--which runs the highly successful i-mode mobile service in Japan.
Simon Buckingham, an industry analyst at Mobile Lifestreams, thinks that NEC didn't want to risk the wrath of DoCoMo by robbing it of the glory of being first with 3G. "This isn't any surprise, given the DoCoMo delay. NEC is supplying the switching systems for both BT's and DoCoMo's trial 3G networks, and it has already promised to ship the switches on the same day. NEC wants to be fair to both," said Buckingham.
Other analysts agree that BT's announcement is no shock, from a political point of view. "DoCoMo's delay means there is less pressure on BT to launch 3G on the Isle of Man. It can now take a few extra months and get the network working properly," suggests Declan Lonergan, mobile analyst at The Yankee Group.
Neither believes that the delay indicates a flood of new problems for 3G, but the delays come on top of concerns that the mobile sector has crippled itself by overspending on 3G licenses.
Technical glitches are inevitable. "We expect to see several more technical glitches as companies prepare their 3G networks, but we don't see this as a big problem," said Buckingham. He feels that the complexity of building whole new networks means that unforeseen problems will arise. "Achieving interoperability is the key challenge. For example, you could have 200 Siemens terminals which all work together, but then you might discover they won't communicate with Nokia terminals," Buckingham said.
Sources at NEC insist that the delay is no big deal. "You get these sorts of problems with every kind of new product or service," said Kazuya Yoshida of NEC. "NEC is proud of the work we've been doing with BT and with NTT DoCoMo, and I don't accept that today's news from BT means that there will be delays to the rollout of 3G."
Yoshida also denied allegations in the Daily Telegraph that NEC had refused to help fix the software bug because of pressure from NTT DoCoMo. "That's just speculation, and there's nothing in it," he said.