15 August 2002 Tele2 Norway has become the latest wireless operator in Europe to admit that it will not be able to honour its third-generation (3G) network rollout commitments.
The 3G licence-holder, which is owned by Swedish telecoms operator Netcom, said it will likely miss its self-imposed deadline of 1 December 2002 to have built 1,700 base stations in Norway.
The admission raises the possibility that the Norwegian authorities will impose a large fine on the company. They also have the right to terminate Tele2’s licence in cases of serious breaches of licence conditions.
Like other Scandinavian countries, Norway did not auction off its 3G frequencies to the highest bidder, but gave them away virtually free of charge to applicants that pledged the most aggressive network and service rollouts. Some losing applicants in the region, including Telia of Sweden, argued that Europe’s telecoms regulators were taken in by deliberately unrealistic commitments.
The Tele2 case represents a fresh setback to the European wireless industry. In recent weeks, France Telecom’s Orange subsidiary has asked for a delay in rolling out a 3G network in Sweden, while a 3G joint venture of Spain’s Telefonica and Finland’s Sonera has withdrawn from Germany.
Meanwhile, the US wireless industry has begun to overtake its European counterpart. A growing number of US carriers – which have not been weighed down by paying huge sums for licences – are launching high-speed data services delivered via cheaper, alternative 3G wireless technologies.