Siemens 3G handset heads for UK

The U15, launched on Thursday, is Siemens' attempt to bring 3G into the mainstream

Siemens on Thursday launched a 3G handset that could hit the UK as early as next month, potentially giving consumer demand a shot in the arm. The U15 is a follow-up to Siemens' U10, which was launched a year ago, but the U15 will be more broadly available than its predecessor.

The company also unveiled the results of a European consumer survey showing strong interest in 3G, and predicted there would be 40 million 3G users in the next two years.

Currently, Hutchison 3G's 3 is the only UK provider of 3G services, which deliver broadband data speeds to mobile devices, and its range of handsets is limited mostly to imported Japanese models. The lack of handsets is considered one of the factors in a slower-than-expected start for 3.

The new device may help repair damage caused to 3G's reputation by early handsets. In June, a group of European mobile operators said that existing handsets were too large, too expensive and went through batteries at an absurd rate.

The U15 handset has the appearance of a standard mobile phone, with the addition of a high-resolution colour screen and two VGA cameras -- one facing the user, one facing away. It operates on the UMTS 3G standard as well as all GSM networks.

The phone is capable of recording video with sound, videoconferencing and streaming video over the air. It has 64MB of internal memory, Java, Bluetooth and an MP3 player. To whet users' appetites, Siemens has included the games Anno 1503 and Worldmate with the phone. The handset is launching in UMTS markets including the UK, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Austria and 11 other countries next month, Siemens said.

Siemens, which also makes 3G equipment for telecommunications providers, is projecting strong growth for the technology over the next few years, despite a slow start. "According to our forecasts, every mobile handset in Europe will be 3G capable by 2010," said Rudi Lamprecht, a member of Siemens' managing board, in a statement. He said there would be 40 million 3G users worldwide in 2005 and 100 million in 2006.

Half of consumers in Germany, France and England are "convinced that 3G will succeed", and offered benefits such as added mobility and cutting business costs, according to a survey of 3,000 individuals, Lamprecht said. In Germany, 70 percent of this group said they were considering buying a 3G handset.