More 3G sales lined up for this year

Croatia, Taiwan, Czech Republic all announce proposals

Croatia, Taiwan and the Czech Republic have all announced plans for selling off 3G licences this week, while Australia's 3G plans remain in doubt due to turmoil in the local telecoms market.

3G licences, selling the right to use a high-speed wireless technology called UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), will allow firms to turn mobile phones into portable multimedia Internet terminals, and allow wireless companies to make a killing in the process. But many have expressed doubts about the demand for 3G services, especially considering the hundreds of billions telcos have agreed to pay in licence fees and infrastructure costs.

The Croatian government said this week it aims to sell off 3G licences by the end of the year, probably using a beauty contest, which costs participants less than an auction.

The Taiwan government is looking to release bidding rules by July and start the process by October of this year. It is yet to be decided whether the licences sell-off should rely on a beauty parade or an auction.

Hong Kong said early this week it would use a hybrid process that will hand the government a percentage share of operators' 3G profits.

The Czech government is also opting for a hybrid system, announcing it will charge the country's three mobile operators 5bn korunys (£91m) each for licences, and auction a fourth to a new entrant. The resulting 20bn korunys will be used to help fill a large budget deficit. The Czech plan has been attacked by operators, who say the price is too high.

European 3G auctions have already levied billions of pounds of fees and by the end are expected to cost telcos around 110bn euros (£69bn), according to Forrester Research. If the cost of building the networks and marketing services is included that figure could rise to between 250bn and 350bn euros, Forrester says.

The Czech government hopes to have awarded the licences by the end of September.

In Australia, the procedure could be delayed by concerns over the sale of operator Cable & Wireless Optus. Of the five Australian companies registered for the auction, four are involved in purchasing Optus assets, which could make it difficult to make decisions about a UMTS licence, according to experts.

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