Not so long ago, the third generation (3G) of mobile networks was widely touted as the saviour of the telecommunications industry. But that already threatened status is looking even less likely now.
The latest blow to the embryonic 3G market was delivered by the governments of France and the UK, which last month lifted their bans on the commercial use of wireless local area (W-LAN) technologies. The rulings mean that commercial W-LANs are now permitted in most parts of western Europe.
The decisions do not exactly kill off 3G. For one thing, W-LAN providers will be required to apply for a licence – and it is thought that French and British regulators will set the condition that services can only operate in a strictly defined area, such as within the walls of a particular coffee shop. What's more, the rulings do not of course address the harsh economic realities of becoming a telecoms provider – regardless of what technology is in use – a business case that was known to be challenging long before the recent spate of bankruptcies and accounting scandals proved it thus.
Meanwhile, it is worth remembering that the two newest supporters of W-LANs – France and the UK – also happen to have been two of the main beneficiaries of the 3G licence windfall. The irony will not be lost on those nations' 3G licence-holders.