Government upbeat about 3G

It has been a rough few years for the third-generation mobile market, but Britain's e-commerce minister predicts better times are almost upon us

The UK government is confident that 2004 will be a good year for 3G in Britain, despite concerns that handset availability could hamper operators' attempts to launch commercial services.

Speaking at the UK Technology Partnering and Investment Forum 2004 in London, e-commerce minister Stephen Timms predicted that exciting times were ahead in the third-generation mobile space.

"We've already got Hutchison running its 3G service in the UK, and I'm confident that in the next few months we will see impressive mobile services launched by other providers too," said Timms.

Last month, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile all switched on their British 3G networks. Commercial launches are expected later this year, but operators are generally keeping quiet about their precise service plans.

Vodafone and T-Mobile, for example, are both kicking off with high-speed data services for laptops, rather than mobile videophone services.

Last month, Arun Sarin, Vodafone's chief executive, blamed the lack of "superior handsets" for delays in launching 3G services -- but also predicted mass-market take-up of 3G in the fourth quarter of this year, once more handsets are available.

After winning £22.5bn from the mobile industry in the auction of 2000, and subsequently declining to repay any of it during the technology sector's slump, it could be embarrassing for the government -- and a blow to its IT credibility -- if 3G flops in Britain.