Mobile operators unite in efforts to make handsets available to consumers at US$100 each Nine mobile operators including China Mobile, Hutchison Group, Vodafone and Orange will unite in a worldwide programme that aims to make 3G handsets based on the WCDMA standard available to consumers at US$100 each. The '3G for all' programme is the sequel to the 'emerging market handset' scheme organised by global mobile trade group GSM Association last year which will see the winning vendor, Motorola, ship more than 20 million GSM handsets to more than 50 countries by the end of this year. Participation by China Mobile indicates the company's strong interests in WCDMA technology - even as China is expected to hand out 3G licences by the end of this year in a process that would most likely involve licensing operators with the homegrown TD-SCDMA technology. While the previous programme which brought 2G handsets at wholesale prices less than US$30 into emerging markets such as India, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Egypt and others, GSM Association chairman Craig Ehrlich said that for 3G, there would not be any geographical limit for the winning vendor in selling these mass market handsets. 'For the previous emerging market handset programme, some of the vendors had concerns over unilaterally dropping the better margins [they could enjoy] also for markets with better economy such as some of the European markets,' he said, explaining why it was limited to emerging markets. For 3G, there are already more than 70 million users, 105 networks deployed and some 355 WCDMA handset models launched worldwide. WCDMA is starting to get the economies of scale and the association sees this as the right time to make these handsets available globally. 'This is the next phase for 3G, making it more affordable in both developing and developed markets,' said Mark Smith, GSM Association spokesman. Still, Mr Ehrlich said as the '3G for all' programme came amid both India's and China's imminent move to license 3G around the end of this year or early next year, promoting mass market 3G handsets at such a time had given the programme a strong Asian implication. Hutchison, which is the programme sponsor, is working with the other eight mobile operators in drafting the specifications for the tender, a process due to begin by October. The winning handset vendor will be announced early next year during the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, with delivery expected also by next year. Mr Ehrlich said that in the previous emerging market handset programme most of the 16 participating mobile operators placed an order for the Motorola C113 'soarbar' handset. Gartner forecasts that up to 110 million 3G mobile handsets would be sold worldwide of the total 960 million units predicted for this year from about 40 million 3G units last year. For the first quarter, strong volume growth, particularly in emerging markets, fuelled a 24 per cent increase to 224 million units. But the IT research house also expects the average selling price to continue falling so that the value of the market would grow by less than 10 per cent from US$135 billion last year. Motorola declined to say whether it would submit a bid for the programme, only that it would 'watch with interest' the programme's specifications and core requirements. Nokia, which is also active in branching into low-cost handsets and is set to launch a Euro45 ($439) handset for first-time mobile users in China, said they would be interested in reviewing the programme's proposal. However, Antonio Torres, director of business development and industry marketing of Nokia's mobile phones entry business unit, said mobile penetration was driven by the total cost of owning not only the handset but also the service and taxes involved - which make up 86 per cent of the cost of mobile connectivity. As such, lower handset price alone does not bring about higher 3G penetration as it must also be accompanied by lower mobile service tariff.