Orange launches 3G with Microsoft on board

UK laptop users can now turn to Vodafone, Orange or T-Mobile for a high-speed mobile data service, with T-Mobile offering Wi-Fi access as part of the mix

Britain's third-generation mobile market turned much more competitive today, as Orange threw its  3G network open to commercial users and T-Mobile tried to steal Orange's thunder with the launch of its own 3G service.

Orange is offering a high-speed data card for laptops that will let mobile workers get a Web connection or access the corporate network while out of the office.

According to official figures, Orange's 3G network provides coverage to about 66 percent of the UK population.

With unlimited access costing £75 per month, the Orange Mobile Office card is significantly cheaper than Vodafone's rival 3G service, which charges £10 a month more for a capped service. Analysts have already predicted that competition in the 3G market will push prices down.

"I can't believe they [Vodafone] will keep pricing that is so uncompetitive, especially when we are seeing other players coming in with something similar, but so much cheaper," Stephanie Pittet, mobile and wireless analyst at Gartner, told ZDNet UK last month.

Orange's 3G service has been tested by a number of companies during recent months, including Microsoft.

Microsoft's trial of the Orange Mobile Office card has gone well, according to insiders, who were impressed with the service's 3G coverage.

Steve Harvey, Microsoft's director of people and culture, said in a statement that "the Mobile Office Card has provided an efficient way for employees to access the internet from their laptops when out of the office".

The formal launch of Orange's 3G network was overshadowed somewhat on Monday by the surprise news that T-Mobile had also launched its first third-generation service. Its data cards will provide unlimited access to T-Mobile's 3G and GPRS networks and its Wi-Fi hot spots for £70 per month.

However, T-Mobile's 3G network offers a top speed of only 128Kbps at present, compared to 384Kbps for Vodafone and Orange. This is expected to increase during the coming months.