Finance Minister Hans Eichel is almost certain to be in for a surprise today when his country becomes the third European nation to open the bidding for its highly coveted third-generation (3G) mobile-phone licences. Mr Eichel has conservatively predicted that the auction will fetch total receipts from the licences on offer of just 10 billion euros (about HK$72.11 billion), but not only is this far short of the 40 billion euros that was seen in Britain's 3G auction earlier this year, but is not much more than the 2.6 billion euros raised in the Netherlands auction, which ended last Monday. Telecommunications analysts admit that the Dutch auction was a disappointment, raising just a third of what even the Dutch Government was expecting. This has put put a dampener on the heady valuations being applied to 3G licences. But analysts say it will not lessen the enthusiasm among bidders to capture the right to offer 3G services to Germany. As Europe's largest economy, Germany boasts a mobile market that is significantly larger than that of the Netherlands, but also is even larger than Britain, and high bids are almost guaranteed. Among the names that will start making preliminary bids are the E-Plus-Hutchison consortium, equally owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa and German mobile phone company, E-Plus. Also in the frame is Mannesmann Mobilfunk, owned by Vodafone AirTouch, the world's largest mobile-phone company, and T-Mobile, the mobile phone arm of Deutsche Telekom. Viag Interkom, owned by British Telecommunications, E.ON of Germany and Telenor of Norway are also in the frame, alongside MobilCom, in which France Telecom has a 28.5 per cent stake, Debitel, which is controlled by Swisscom, and Group 3G - made up of Telefonica of Spain and Finland's Sonera. A poll of analysts found that Group 3G and Debitel were the most likely to lose out on the bidding and that, on average, about 35 billion euros was expected to be paid for German licences. Analysts said that the lacklustre results of the Dutch auction did mean that some of the heat had gone out of the premiums that telecoms companies might be willing to pay for European 3G licences, but the size of the German market meant that final bids similar to those paid in the British auction were still likely. 'It is much calmer than it was,' said Dennis Gross, telecoms analyst at Williams de Broe. 'On balance, I think we are going to see the total cost of licences less than originally feared, but I still would have thought that 30 billion to 40 billion euros would be easily achievable.' The experience from the British auction means that telecoms companies have also started being able to build up profitability models that they can start offering to the investment community. The scope for earnings growth from 3G services is still largely uncertain, as telecoms companies themselves are not able to predict how quickly such services will become profitable. With 3G, or Universal Mobile Telecommunication Systems technology, operators will be able to offer transmission speeds 40 times faster than the existing Global System for Mobile technology. This means a wider variety of services will be on offer, such as Internet access and video on demand, potentially increasing earnings opportunities.