Orange ready to join 3G Christmas battle

Orange brings more competition to the 3G phone market next week with the launch of its first handset, but some observers say 3G phones still offer too little value to consumers
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
The UK's 3G market is set to become more competitive next week when Orange is expected to launch its first video mobile phones.

A company spokesman confirmed on Thursday that Orange will reveal details of its first 3G mobile phone products on Monday when the products launch. This will make it the third company to launch third-generation handsets in the UK, after Hutchison's 3 and Vodafone.

Orange said last month that it would sell 3G phones from six different manufacturers -- LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sanyo and Sony Ericsson. Reports have suggested that the operator will only offer two or three different devices this year, but Orange isn't releasing firm details ahead of Monday's launch.

One phone that's likely to be available is the Sanyo S750, which was launched earlier this week. Sanyo claims that its 2.4-inch QVGA screen is the largest such display on the market. As well as supporting video calls and high-speed Web browsing over WAP, its Bluetooth and infrared support means it can also be used as a modem.

Its 1.3-megapixel camera isn't the best around, as the Sharp 902SH offered by Vodafone includes a two-megapixel camera.

The 902SH isn't actually available in the UK yet, although Vodafone announced it at its 3G phone launch last month. A Vodafone spokeswoman said this week that it would available "by Christmas". It's likely to cost between £50 and £250, depending on which tariff a user picks.

O2, another 3G licence-holder, isn't planning to enter the 3G handset wars until 2005. It said yesterday that it had teamed up with NTT DoCoMo to offer its i-mode service in the UK.

Having each spent many billions of pounds buying 3G licences and building networks, the mobile operators are desperate for their phones and data cards to be successful.

However, there are signs that they may struggle. Consumer magazine Which? has advised Christmas shoppers to stay away from 3G. It says that the cost of buying a third generation handset is too high, because the 3G network outside London and the UK's major cities are so limited.

The magazine also said the handsets were oversized and recommended the UK public stay with their old-school handsets for a while yet.

silicon.com's Jo Best contributed to this report

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