Third-generation has arrived, but don't try using it

  • 2002-10-03
  • Jean Liou

Nokia launched its first third-generation, or 3G, handset amid great fanfare in Helsinki last week, claiming the future had arrived.

The reality appears a bit different.

"Aah, it's not working! Please, go to my colleague over there," a Nokia representative said as he frantically tried to demonstrate the Finnish company's latest piece of wizardry.

Fortunately for Nokia, most other demonstration phones worked, allowing hundreds of journalists and analysts from as far afield as Japan a firsthand look at what the future holds.

"That's life, it's not just a demonstration, the network is functioning," assured Harri Koponen, chief executive of leading Finnish operator Sonera, which Nokia had teamed up with for the event.

Nokia's new phone, dubbed 6650, features a color screen and low-resolution digital camera, and can send messages containing sound and images, including short video clips.

However, the network Koponen was proudly displaying was a second-generation GSM network - in operation for the past decade - since Sonera recently announced it would not be ready to provide third-generation services until sometime next year.

So for now, Nokia's new phone is without a network. Not that it matters much - the phone will not be available in stores until next year, when European operators hope to have set up their super-hyped 3G networks.

Hedging its bets in case the long-awaited launch of 3G networks experiences further delays, Nokia designed its new phone so its could function on both the old and the new networks.

Hmm, what happened to the future?

To confuse consumers even more, Nokia and Sonera distanced themselves from so-called 2.5G mobile phone services, dubbed so because they bridge the gap between GSM and the newer 3G services.

Instead, they said they were now providing 3G services on a second-generation platform.

But wait a minute. "Wasn't 3G supposed to provide super-fast broadband Internet access and live audio and video streaming capabilities, enabling users to do video-conference calls from their handsets?," one analyst asked.

To which Nokia and Sonera replied that yes, it will in the end. But the services available on the new phone - and on every 2.5G phone already on the market - will also be on 3G handsets.

As embarrassed laughter filled the room, and analysts shook their heads in disbelief at the industry's latest spin on the continuous postponement of 3G services.