Portuguese mobile operator Optimus launched third-generation (3G) cellular services on a commercial basis yesterday and immediately declared its desire to become the leading provider of mobile data services in Portugal within five years. Despite promising EUR300 million investment in its 3G offering until 2008, chief executive officer Antonio Casanova warned that he did not expect demand from consumers to arrive in earnest until 2006. To this end the company said that it would not be subsidising the Sony Ericsson Z1010 handset currently on offer, pricing it at EUR690.
The smallest of Portugal’s three operators, Optimus competes against the might of Portugal Telecom mobile subsidiary TMN and Vodafone Portugal. Whilst those two heavyweights have been slogging it out for top spot in the 2G services market over the past few years, Optimus, which is majority-owned by Portuguese industrial group Sonae, has steadily been increasing its presence, ending 2003 with a subscriber base of 2.306 million and 22% of the market.
Optimus won its 3G licence in December 2000, along with TMN and Vodafone; a fourth concession was awarded to OniWay, a venture backed by fixed line telco Oni Telecom and Norway’s Telenor, which has since wound up its operations in the country. The licences comprise 2×15MHz of shared spectrum and 5MHz of non-shared spectrum, and stipulate that 3G networks should cover 20% of the population by the end of the first year of operation, 40% by the end of the third and 60% by the end of the fifth. The operators were initially given until the end of 2001 to roll out the necessary infrastructure and launch 3G services, but in June that year they appealed to the regulator ANACOM to push back the deadline in view of equipment shortages and technological problems. In October 2001 the regulator announced that 3G launch would be postponed for a year to 31 December 2002, although even this proved to be optimistic; Vodafone called for a further delay in August 2002, followed by a similar request from Optimus the following month. ANACOM duly extended the deadline further to 1 July 2004.
Vodafone finally launched a limited 3G service in Lisbon and Oporto in early January 2004, with CEO Antonio Carrapatoso claiming that 10% of his company’s clients would be using 3G by the end of 2005, rising to 50% by 2009. In a bid to expedite take-up, Vodafone is offering video calls at the same price as voice calls until the end of the year. TMN followed suit in April, initially offering 3G coverage of Lisbon and Oporto. The following month it announced that it was expanding the service to Aveiro, Braga, Coimbra and Faro.