Every time a new technology threatens to reach the mainstream, journalists and analysts line up to kick its teeth in. Four years ago, as mobile phone manufacturers and carriers began pumping the potential of third-generation (3G) networks, journalists switched their attention from the evils of the internet and snarled at the new arrival. They had some good reasons. The dotcom bubble was already deflating, and the previous three years had thrown up a spectacular collection of bad ideas. For technophobes, this was a time of vindication. So they were more than ready for 3G. Third-generation telephony got off to a bad start. The early spectrum auctions were held during a period of madness when investors shelled out more than US$100 billion on European licences. By the time Hong Kong's spectrum speculation began, the world was wising up. After Peoples Telephone and New World decided not to bother taking part, our own auction was abandoned, letting Hutchison, CSL, SmarTone Telecommunications and Sunday Communications share the four licences on offer, at a royalty rate of HK$50 million a year for five years, and 5 per cent of revenues for the next 10 years. Nobody could quite understand what the fuss was about. Looking at their WAP-enabled, three-line monochrome displays, many people dismissed the whole concept as hype. But like the internet, or like mobile phones themselves, this much hyped and derided technology is not going to disappear like so many proactive paradigm shifts of the past. Three years after Hong Kong distributed its 3G licences, Hutchison is ready to launch its network. And for the next two years, we will read the same analysts complain that Hutch 3 is a failure. The network will not be cheap. One of the reasons NTT succeeded in Japan was that voice calls in Japan are expensive and adding data did not mean adding a great deal to a phone bill. Our operators face a different market. CSL and SmarTone have delayed rolling out their 3G networks because they have already seen with the slow growth of GPRS and multimedia messaging that cheap voice puts data charges in the luxury bracket. Hutchison is setting its prices at HK$263 to $533 per month, which is cheaper than some overseas offerings, but will still sound steep to most Hong Kongers. Hutch has promised to have hundreds of thousands of handsets ready by early next year but the range will be poor and coverage limited. With our densely packed population, we may not suffer the problems reported in Europe and Australia, where customers have been told not to move while they speak. But Hutchison has admitted that much of Hong Kong can forget about 3G for now. On top of all that, there will be little content to go round. There are still a few questions to answer, particularly in China. As we roll out a principally UMTS system, the mainland has yet to award its 3G licences. In a sane world, the next generation would follow the current one and China would move towards UMTS as the mainstream, followed by either CDMA 2000 or the domestically backed TDSCDMA. But the way China has been ruling on domestic technology standards lately, it would be no surprise if the government decided to ban everything except for the domestic standard. No one should expect instant enthusiasm for 3G in Hong Kong. Hutchison managing director Canning Fok yesterday said: 'What we are going to offer has not been seen here before, but it will become a part of your everyday life.' And despite all the hurdles he faces, I believe he is right. Content will appear, just as it has done elsewhere. With its new service, Hutch promises news on demand, music and video streaming, Premier League Football and video calls. Displays and memory will be larger, processors faster and the phones will support more applications and better security than anything in the past. Video cameras will offer a high enough resolution so that you can recognise the person you are talking to. Phones will be inexpensive. The NEC 616, which will hit stores in January, will sell for $3,980 - cheaper than many high-end GSM phones. I will not be among the trickle of 3G early adopters. The current generation of handsets is short on both features and style and the coverage will be too poor to guarantee my thirst for data. I prefer to leave the headaches to the trailblazing few who can afford the frustration. But in the next two years, somebody will produce a 3G handset I will like, and I will happily make the switch. And no matter how sceptical you may be right now, in time so will you. Neil Taylor is the editor of SCMP's Technology section.