Vodafone Throws Down 3G Gauntlet
By Carlo Longino, Wed Sep 22 21:15:00 GMT 2004

Forget sticking a toe in the water, Vodafone's done a cannonball -- unveiling 10 handsets it's got lined up for the November launch of its 3G consumer services in the UK.

The carrier's CEO, Arun Sarin, has been telling anybody that would listen his company wouldn't do a full-scale European 3G consumer launch until until it could procure enough quality handsets in great enough numbers -- and it looks like that time has come. Vodafone will launch the handsets in markets around the world in November, in time for the important Christmas shopping season.

The handsets all look pretty cool, but they're really not what's important here. Vodafone has taken a very aggressive, very public stance to remind carriers in all its markets around the world that it's top dog, and challenging them to match the breadth of its offerings. It has, of course, soft-launched 3G in many markets with a data card offering, and in addition to Japan, done consumer launches in Germany and Portugal. These were with a single Samsung handset; the handsets it announced today will be available across many markets along with "a broader array of services across Europe and Japan".

The devices are based on a set of global Vodafone standards, so 6 of them will be sold in both Europe and Japan, with 3 more Europe-only and another exclusive to Japan. But more importantly, all the devices can roam between Vodafone's European and Japanese networks, and promise to seamlessly deliver the user's usual services when they're roaming on another Vodafone network -- which could be a very enticing prospect to Europeans who travel regularly to Japan, and previously had to use a second handset there.

And the fact that seven of these phones will be sold in Japan reveals the priority Vodafone is putting on turning around its dismal recent performance there. Vodafone KK has badly lagged NTT DoCoMo and KDDI in terms of devices, and it's been cited as a major reason it's faltered there.

There have been some successful 3G handsets thus far, including a couple from LG and the Nokia 7600 on 3, but most have been too bulky and underperforming to meet most consumers' expectations. By launching with a wide variety of what appear to be solid handsets, Vodafone has taken a big step to ensure its initial success, and set the bar pretty high for other carriers that will be following with consumer launches of their own before Christmas.