So: who will be first to launch the second 3G network in the UK?

by Sniffer | posted on 19 August 2003

Rumour only: the 3G packets on the third generation phone circuits say that there will be "an operator of 3G WCDMA networks in the UK by Christmas, that will not be Hutchison 3G."


This has prompted enormous speculation, because insiders already know that Vodafone is very keen to have a network running soon. Voda recently took over the experimental 3G network in the Cambridge area, and is aggressively pursuing plans to set up masts.

Now, into the arena, comes a new rumour: BWCS says that T-Mobile has started dropping hints, based on its 23-city trial network in Germany, that it might move into Britain.

The BWCS analysis is sensible enough, but that's not what voices are saying in the 3G chat-rooms.

There, the suggestion is that yes, Vodafone (and possibly) T-Mobile might both be operating a 3G network by the end of the year. And yes, it might be in Britain. But the network that is up for grabs isn't a new one.

What the gossipers are saying is that Hutchison can't possibly sustain its operation that long, and that one of the other two will buy the network from them.

Smart money is on Vodafone to make an offer Hutchison cannot refuse in the next few weeks, and for a rollout of the new brand, using the same masts at first, but using Vodafone masts as well, expanding the network beyond its current restricted state.

The "3" brand wouldn't disappear, say these packets on the network. Rather, Hutchison would sell the infrastructure, but carry on running the branded service on what would be a Vodafone network; while Vodafone would offer a parallel 3G service on the same fibre and wireless - much as Virgin and T-Mobile share a GSM network in the UK at the moment.

Hutchison's network is hopelessly behind schedule. It was planning to have a million subscribers by the end of 2003, but even if BWCS estimates of 10,000 new subscribers a month are correct, it can't hope to get anywhere near that. Its creditors would probably let it carry on operating if it shed its infrastructure for almost any money at all.

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