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GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade association for mobile operators, said Tuesday it had approved a “3G for all” programme, under which the group aims to bring the mobile Internet and high-bandwidth multimedia services to the mass market. The industry association hopes that 3G will eventually become as popular as GSM.

“Our 3G handset initiative will allow far more people to take advantage of the video clips, mobile music, Internet access, and many other multimedia services now enjoyed by more affluent users in the developed world,” says Rob Conway, chief executive of the GSMA.

Over the next few months, a group of operator members of the GSMA plan to establish a core set of common requirements for 3G handsets to create the economies of scale that will allow mobile phone suppliers to rapidly bring down the cost of manufacturing these devices. According to a statement from GSMA, mobile phone producers will compete to design a 3G handset that meets the operators’ common requirements and is enough affordable. The GSMA will endorse the winning handset, which will be widely deployed by operators participating in a programme targeted to accelerate deployment of 3G.

“Our Emerging Market Handset programme is a compelling demonstration of how economies of scale can be brought to bear to accelerate falls in the cost of manufacturing mobile phones,” Mr. Conway added.

Even though customers in European countries can afford 3G phones with 3GSM support that cost about $300 (Sony Ericsson K600i), there are very few services that take advantage of additional bandwidth provided by 3G amid pretty high costs per megabyte by several operators. The latter means that carriers themselves will have to lower the prices considerably, in case they want to make 3G more popular. On the other hand, availability of 3G gives operators chances to offer more special services and generate more revenues.

3G – the further development of GSM networks – currently faces competition from WiMAX, which is sometimes referred to as future of the broadband Internet, and also from High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), which is based on Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) networks, which have been gaining broader and broader support across the globe.

More details of the initiative, which is sponsored by the Hutchison Group, will be announced at the 3GSM World Congress Asia in Singapore in October.

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