The jury is still out as to which mobile phone network will be the second to launch in the UK after the trailblazing Three.
While the hot money is still on Vodafone, Orange has recently been outlining its 3G strategy while giving details of its upcoming handsets and PC cards.
Last week in London Orange took the wraps off its 3G plans unveiling a high speed data (384 kbps) 3G/GPRS laptop PC card for both consumers and business users.
Yet in spite of delivering 3G after both Vodafone and Three Orange’s execs insisted that the network was in no way playing catch up.
‘We have got 3G right in every area,’ argued Orange UK’s exec VP John Allwood. ‘In terms of coverage, roaming and the product itself we are offering the best service. Sixty six per cent of the population are able to access the network. It will be 90% by mid-2005. This is more than Vodafone which currently only has 42% coverage.’
Orange is also offering a slightly more competitive pricing structure than its rival with users charged £20 per month to download up to 65MB of data – 15MB more than Vodafone’s similarly priced package.
There’s also a pay as you consume tariff that works out at £2 per MB and an unlimited download tariff for £75 per month. Although this ‘unlimited download’ actually has a cap of one Gigabyte per month.
Roaming fees, for when the service is used outside of the UK start at £8 per MB, while the price of the card ranges from £225-85 depending on which tariff is chosen.
A joint 3G/Wi-Fi card will arrive soon while a 3G card boasting download speeds of an astonishing two Mbps is slated for next summer.
Sadly upload speeds are likely to remain a sluggish 64 kbps for some time.
The network was, however, not keen on giving too much away about the roll out of 3G services to consumers.
Online did manage to grab a sneaky play with the two 3G phones Orange is likely to launch in September. The hero handset, LG’s U8150, is virtually identical to the U8100, a small (for 3G) clamshell that has been hugely successful for Three. It scores over almost all its 3G rival in terms of size, battery performance and usability.
Less impressive is the Sony Ericsson Z1010, which offers a solid range of facilities including XHTML web browsing, person to person video calling and POP3 email compatibility, yet is housed in a rather bulky clamshell case. It is widely rumoured that the Z1010 will also be one of Vodafone’s launch 3G handsets.
Investing in a 3G card for a laptop PCs is an obvious upgrade for mobile business users. However selling 3G handsets to consumers will prove a much trickier proposition.
Orange, and its rival networks, not only have to market core 3G applications such as person to person video calling and video downloads/streams of football matches and music videos. They also need to persuade customers to swap existing quality GPRS phones for larger, less attractive 3G handsets with poorer battery life.
Factor in the need to compete with Three’s very aggressive pricing and
it is no wonder both Vodafone and Orange opted for the business 3G proposition first.
They have to launch 3G to consumers in the UK at some point, but it’ll be a brave network that goes first.