US carriers finally join the 3G club; Europe, Asia soldier on

As expected, US carriers this year finally launched widespread commercial 3G phone services. However, we didn't see mobile TV coming, especially not as the killer app for 3G. Verizon Wireless and Sprint are already ahead of the pack, though Cingular's recently announced 3G service will also feature a video service. Sprint made the cut and launched its 3G service, but Cingular's seems like it has come up just shy of 2005. 2005  was not a breakthrough year for the US 3G market, even though a lot of marketing went into pushing 3G mobile TV services like Verizon's VCast. These launches certainly mark a transition for the industry, not only from 2.75 to 3G, but from voice provider to television service provider.

In January we said: "In China, the 3G deadlock will likely continue until the Chinese government and its partners can make TD-SCDMA work." Since they still haven't, it holds true. The big question in 2005 in China was: Would China's government let other technologies, such as WCDMA or CDMA2000, compete with TD-SCDMA for 3G network contracts? No, they didn't; and they probably won't. This is especially true since big vendor names like Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel, Nortel and Lucent have all stepped up in support (grumbling support in some cases) of TD-SCDMA.

Europe's carriers began to push hard this year. After tepid rollouts last year, Europe's service providers are experimenting with ways to make their new 3G networks catch on with consumers. Vodafone is already being very aggressive, offering free handsets with service, but I think operators have a lot to learn from Verizon Wireless. I expect US carriers to start copying any early 3G successes from this market in 2006.