Vodafone has moved another step towards launching a commercial third-generation mobile handset service, and is now letting selected users test its network.
The mobile operator said on Wednesday that several thousand customers in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow will be let loose on Vodafone live! 3G during the next couple of months.
The customers will be used to road-test Vodafone's 3G handsets before they are fully launched. Two handsets will be on trial initially -- the Samsung Z105 and the Sony Ericsson Z1010.
Vodafone already sells a 3G data card, which lets mobile workers get a fast Web connection in many metropolitan areas. Handsets, though, bring a new range of challenges.
"The network demands [of 3G handsets and 3G data cards] are similar, although services like video calling put different demands on a network than a pure data transmission," explained a Vodafone spokesman.
"A consumer offering needs to address many more elements than just a fast data connection -- hence the additional tests," he added.
These handsets are often billed as "consumer" offerings, but as they can support high-speed Web surfing and email access they could also be a useful work tool.
At present, 3 is the only company offering a consumer 3G service in the UK. Vodafone's entry into the market is eagerly anticipated, especially as 3 appears to have chosen cheap calls as the focus of its sales strategy.
Competition could encourage 3G operators to offer more innovative features.
Vodafone hasn't said when the commercial launch of its 3G handsets will take place, but October was recently rumoured to be the target month.
In other 3G news, 3 announced this week that it is now offering NEC's e228 video mobile phone.
The handset works on 3G and GPRS networks, and supports email, an MP3 player, 19MB of internal memory and a memory card slot for Sony's MemoryStick Duo, which can hold up to 128MB of data.