BT delays first 3G mobile launch


The launch of the world’s first third generation mobile phone service on the Isle of Man has been delayed by at least three months because of malfunctioning handsets.

British Telecom, which had been due to start the service at the end of May, said its Manx Telecom subsidiary was postponing the launch because of a software problem in phones supplied by NEC.

The service on the tiny island off north-west England would have been the world’s first after Japan’s NTT DoCoMo delayed its launch in Tokyo from May until October.

BT said it will now launch the Isle of Man’s high-speed mobile internet service at the end of summer or early autumn.

A BT spokesman said the NEC handsets lose their connection when the caller moves into a new mobile “cell” – or a new area covered by the network.

A software problem in the phone prevents the network seamlessly passing the call to the radio mast in the new cell. The problem is the same one that forced DoCoMo to delay, the spokesman said.

The setback comes as British Telecom steps up its battle to win back the confidence of its investors. The debt-ridden telecom giant has revealed further details of a major cost-cutting programme aimed at shaving about £600m off its operating budget.

BT’s new chairman Sir Christopher Bland will travel the country briefing investors on the plan this week.

The company also hopes to shed 5,000 jobs this year through “natural wastage”, a spokesman confirmed. He said that the company had also cut 5,000 jobs last year. The company hopes to avoid any compulsory redundancies.

Sir Christopher retains his previous position as chairman of the BBC until a successor is found. In another move to overhaul its strategy, BT is considering the option of creating a new telecom company in conjunction with the US telecom giant AT&T.

The new company would combine Concert – BT’s global telecom joint venture with AT&T – and BT’s Ignite unit, which provides broadband services. The company, which would also include AT&T’s own business services division, would be floated on the stock markets in London and New York with an estimated value of £5bn.

The plan is one of a dozen options being considered for Concert, including downsizing. Concert’s performance has been disappointing, as was shown when BT reported a £2.8bn ($4bn) pre-tax loss for the fourth quarter. Concert racked up a loss of £89m after a previous profit of £69m.

BT, which has a 50% stake in the company, is also discussing options to sell its stake in Concert to AT&T. BT announced last week it is to demerge its mobile telephone and internet division BT Wireless. The remainder of BT, which includes the core fixed-line business, is to be renamed Future BT.

Existing BT shareholders will hold shares in both companies. BT has told shareholders it was necessary to demerge BT Wireless because of tough market conditions and increasing competition in the mobile phone sector.



Waterman slams ‘rip-off’ ring tones


Veteran songwriter and producer Pete Waterman has criticised musical mobile phone ring tones as a “waste of money”.

Waterman airs his criticisms in an investigation into the cost of mobile phone ring tones on BBC One’s Hard Cash programme, due to be broadcast on Monday.

The Coventry-born impresario, known for his knack for spotting mass market pop acts, says that most of the tones on the market are not worth the money.

“I just think some of them are rip-offs and some of them are blatantly nothing like the song,” he said.

Many children dial premium rate numbers to get a hold of the week’s chart hit for their mobile phone’s ring tone.

The lines charge up to £1.50 a minute and can cost even more from mobiles.

Hard Cash found youngsters who had spent nearly £300 after changing their ring tones repeatedly.

The cheap way to get a new ring tone is to find one of the many internet sites where various dial tones can be downloaded for free.

But Waterman – who was part of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman outfit that produced Rick Astley, Bananarama and Steps – says that many of these are not even recognisable.

“In the office we downloaded a load of ring tones from the internet and we could only recognise about 20 of them.”

Waterman has been responsible for 20 British number ones, 200 British hits in all and record sales totalling over 500 million.

Some of the better known hits he has produced are Bananarama’s Love In The First Degree, Kylie Minogue’s Better The Devil You Know, and Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Round.

He is well-known for his outspoken opinions on the music industry – most recently he dismissed Popstars group Hear’Say as “karaoke”.

Last year Waterman charted his rise from Coventry railway worker to multi-millionaire record producer in an autobiography entitled I Wish I Was Me.

Text me a soap


You can get sports updates, bank balances and stock prices via the short message service (SMS) on your mobile phone and soon you will be able to get a soap opera, too.

The soap will be based around the lives, loves, triumphs and disasters of a group of eight characters. Each episode will stretch across three SMS messages.

The idea is already on trial in Germany and its inventors are now talking to British TV companies to develop the soap and the update service further.

Leading the way with this new form of episodic entertainment is technology company Materna, which has signed a deal with German mobile phone firm E-Plus

The drama, simply called SMS-Soap, revolves around the lives of eight individuals – called Laura, Franziska, Judith, Inka, Tim, Mirko, Jan, and Ulf – who all work at an advertising agency owned by Tim.

Michael Ohajuru, a spokesman for Materna, said three messages were needed for each episode because the 160-character limit of one SMS message would not allow the story to develop enough. “The only downside of SMS is its brevity,” he said.

Mr Ohajuru added that many mobile phone networks allowed up to three messages to be linked together as a single “event” for which the customer was charged the price of only one message.

The SMS-Soap will be free until the end of May when E-Plus will start charging 39 pfennigs (12p) for each episode. A weekly summary of events in the soap will be posted on the E-Plus website every Sunday.

Mr Ohajuru said Materna was currently negotiating with the makers of soaps in the UK and expected a similar service to launch in Britain soon.