Vodafone takes on big guns with 3G

Vodafone is the latest major telecommunications carrier to step into the 3G arena, joining Telstra and Hutchison's 3 in offering video, voice and data over the one connection.

Metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are now officially connected to Vodafone's 3G network, as the carrier rolls out its high-speed mobile network.

The network also includes coverage in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane airports. It will go live in Adelaide and Brisbane metropolitan by June next year.

The 3G network, developed over the past two years, delivers video and voice streaming as well as data downloads at a maximum speed of 384Kbps.

With the launch of 3G, Vodafone also extends the capabilities of its Vodafone Live! Portal - called "Vodafone live! with 3G".

Through partnerships with Foxtel, SkyNews, major record labels and games distributors, customers can download sports and news updates, songs, music videos, and games such as the SIMS or FIFA 06 to their phones.

Music tracks, which are encoded in MP4 format and digital rights management (DRM)-protected, will cost $2.79 per track; video clips $2.49. Subscriptions to the Fox Sports and SkyNews services costs $2.99 per month; and games between $3 and $7 per download.

The company is also offering what it calls "Mobisodes" - one-to-three minute clips from popular TV shows that have been edited specifically for mobile handsets. Shows include South Park and 24: Conspiracy. The latter is a one-minute episode of the popular TV show. Each episode being a continuation of the previous until the 24th-minute finale.

Customers can also make video calls to anybody on a 3G network. These are charged at 1.5x the standard voice rate with a 25c connection fee.

Vodafone launches its 3G service with six handsets: the Nokia 6680, Samsung z500, Sony Ericsson V600 and V800, Motorola V1050 and Sharp 903 with a 3.2Mp camera. The last two being exclusive to Vodafone.

Company CEO, Russell Hewitt, said the company would be tapping into its 3.2 million subscribers and would look to bring them over to the service with promotional campaigns from now till the end of the year. Some plans include giving loyal customers free 3G phones, or discounted phones. "It is a simple, straight offer to customers that have been loyal to us," he said.

On the data front, the company is sitting in the same sphere as iBurst in the portable broadband market with the launch of "Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) with 3G".

Mark Iles, general manager for business markets, was clear in his description of the service: "This is mobile broadband, not wireless broadband."

He said that wherever a user's 3G handset worked, so too did access to fast Internet. Should a user fall out of a 3G coverage area, the connection would not be dropped, but rather slowed down to the 2.5G speed.

This service requires the purchase of a $399 3G/GPRS data card that inserts into Windows or Apple laptop computers and gives users in the 3G coverage area up to 384Kbps data download. Upload speeds are 64Kbps.

To operate this, the user inserts their SIM card into the data card and connects to the Internet. Rates start from $29.95 for a 100MB plan through to $99.95 for unlimited. The capped plans cost customers 0.2 cents for every additional kilobyte downloaded.

He said the VMC offering was specially targeted at SOHO and SMBs and the company planned to migrate the 8000 customers on the existing GPRS based VMC to the 3G service with promotions and free offers.

Iles said the network would be ready for High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), also known as 3.5G, by 2006. HSDPA ups the download speed to 1.5Mbps. He said migrating to the newer network would require a firmware upgrade, rather than new infrastructure.

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Howard Dahdah

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