Orange unpeels 3G plans

The mobile operator has pipped T-Mobile by setting the date for the release of its 3G data card and handsets

Orange announced details on Thursday of its 3G network plans, with a data card scheduled for release this month and some Orange-compatible 3G handsets hot on its heels.

The Orange Mobile Office Card will provide coverage to around 66 percent of the UK by population with what it describes as a "seamless" handover between the 2.5 and 3G networks.

The card will be offered with a range of tariffs, the most expensive being £75 per month for an all-you-can-use arrangement, with the 3G card reaching speeds of 384Kbps. Prices for the card itself start at £85, up to £255 with the pay-as-you-use tariff.

Users will also be able to roam on the Continent with Orange's Freemove partners in Spain, Italy and Germany, as well as Orange's own network in France.

The cards will officially be available from Orange shops on 19 July and through various partners from August.

Sanjiv Ahuja, Orange's chief executive, described the launch as "the first major step, not just for Orange, but, in some ways, for all the European operators", adding "it's time for the industry to start catching up to Orange."

While Orange may claim better coverage than Vodafone -- which launched its own 3G data card earlier this year -- it has taken considerably longer to get to market.

Richard Brennan, executive VP, global brand, marketing and products, Orange Group, said that the delay in the launch had been down to resolving issues of battery life on the 3G handsets and the handover between 2.5G and 3G networks. "We're confident that those issues have been ironed out."

And while Orange may claim greater coverage of the UK including "all major cities" the new 3G card won't be much use to 34 per cent of the population.

Responding to a question from, Allwood said Orange was aiming to have 80 percent of the country covered by next year but as to greater coverage, "it's the law of diminishing returns... where we go from there, it's in terms of take-up."

The French-owned operator also gave a few hints as to its consumer 3G rollout, saying it had chosen LG and Sony Ericsson as its partners for the eventual launches in the UK and France but gave no dates for when users can get their hands on the handsets, except to say "later this year".