Orange has taken the wraps off 3G aimed mainly at consumers -- four days before handsets are due to be on sale in stores -- claiming to have the best network and set of devices available yet in the UK.
Despite an attempt by rival mmO2 to spoil the party, with a press release outlining plans to use a faster technology known as HSDPA from summer next year, Orange was in bullish mood this morning. The France Telecom-owned operator is launching services in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain as well as the UK, with roaming from the outset.
Applications of the technology will include video calling and voicemail, online gaming, rich content such as Star Wars clips and surfing via the Orange World portal and across the wider web.
Nigel Hall, Orange 3G launch director, said launch tariffs of £70, £50 and -- until the end of January -- "an aggressive early-adopter" £30 per month good value, including at least 60 minutes of video calls, 50MB of data usage, voice and texts.
The company also claims the "most comprehensive launch portfolio of devices", clearly trying to trump Vodafone's glitzy 3G launch last month, even though Orange offerings from Motorola and Nokia won't be available until next year.
Orange claims to have the best 3G network in the sense that its W-CDMA 3G technology and GSM 2G network are well-integrated, meaning fewer calls are supposed to be dropped compared to rival networks from 3 and Vodafone as end users stray out of areas of 3G coverage while remaining on a call. The operator now claims 70 per cent coverage in the UK by population, up four percentage points from the time of its 3G data card rollout in July this year.
Carrie Pawsey, wireless analyst at Ovum, said: "It's very difficult to tell until the networks are up and running [which one drops fewest calls] but it follows the situation should be better for a 2G to 3G operator."
In areas where it doesn't provide coverage, 3's customers roam onto O2's UK GSM network.
Orange's 3G launch devices as of this week include the LG U8150, the Samsung Z107, the Sony Ericsson Z1010 and the Sanyo S750, which is exclusive to Orange and the Japanese company's first foray into the UK mobile market.
And while O2 networks are likely to use so-called 3.5G HSDPA technology earlier than some others -- just like GSM operator Cingular in the US -- Orange told silicon.com it too has been trialling the technology for three months now.
It declined to say whether such an upgrade would go to existing equipment makers. O2 is working with Lucent, which lost out on many W-CDMA 3G contracts, for both HSDPA and IMS (Internet Protocol Multimedia Services), a hefty investment.