The Finnish telco has a fully operational network, meeting its license conditions. Unfortunately, nobody will be able to use it for several months. Sonera is not the only mobile operator to be hit by the lack of 3G handsets (especially dual band models). Indeed, this shortage looks likely to be a major factor limiting early uptake of 3G services.
Sonera has officially launched its Finnish 3G network despite a lack of handsets.
On Tuesday, Finnish incumbent telco, Sonera, switched on its 3G mobile network in four major cities. This satisfies a condition in Sonera’s 3G license which stipulated that it had to launch the network by January 1. However, unlike their Japanese counterparts, Finnish consumers cannot yet use the high-speed mobile devices. 3G handsets are not yet commercially available in the country.
It has been clear for several months that the initial limiting factor for companies aiming to make use of 3G services will be the lack of handsets rather than the roll-out of networks. Operators across Europe and Asia have put back their 3G launch dates because of handset problems.
Sonera has also said that it does not expect 3G to take off in Finland until 2004. This could be seen as pessimistic, given that the country’s telecoms giant, Nokia, has said it will launch its 3G handsets by the end of this year.
Yet there are two major technical issues with 3G handsets. One is that the devices are generally far more complicated and need considerably more testing than previous phones. As a result, most manufacturers are some way from bringing anything into production. Only Matsushita and NEC have so far managed to release handsets commercially.
But the biggest short-term problem is the lack of dual mode handsets. While a current Japanese 3G handset might work in Helsinki, it would be completely useless outside Finland’s four largest cities. Given the expense of the device, this would be unacceptable to consumers. The solution is to produce handsets that work with 2G GSM networks as well – but nobody has achieved this yet.
Sonera’s pessimism does not bode well for other European operators such as Hutchison 3G, which plans to launch 3G services before the end of the year. The Hong Kong-owned group says it will be able to get hold of enough dual mode devices to make a roll-out worthwhile – but this is looking like an increasingly tall order.