Though the term 3G (third-generation) wasn't quite the buzzword at CeBit this year that it was last year, a number of mobile handset makers said at the show they will have 3G handsets ready for the European mass market by the end of this year.

Early in the show, Nokia announced a 26 September launch date for its first mass-market 3G mobile phone service and handsets. Nokia stressed that when commercial 3G services and handsets from Nokia and its partners hit the market, it would not be a "techno launch" but a true mass-market launch.

Motorola sounded a much more cautious note: Mike Zafirovski, president of Motorola's personal communication sector, said the firm would be releasing 3G handsets by the end of the year but wouldn't give a specific date and said he wasn't expecting the 3G market to really start expanding until 2003.

"We are very confident that we will have a 3G dual-mode handset before the year is out," Zafirovski said in a press conference at CeBit. The first Motorola 3G handset to hit stores in the UK should be the 2820 model, he said.

Motorola is partnering with Hutchison 3G UK and two German operators that Zafirovski said could not yet be named.

"Handsets will be available in the third quarter with Hutchison and we expect to have 300,000 to 400,000 3G units out with Hutchison by the year's end," he added.

Siemens also said it expects its first 3G handsets for the European market to be available by the fourth quarter, according to Siemens spokesman Michael Leyer.

Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson is aiming for some sort of 3G product launch in Europe by the end of the year though, as with Motorola, the alliance is more focused on 2003 in terms of a wider product launch.

"We are about to ship the first 3G test units to operators and will have a commercial product by the end of the year, with volume ramping up next year," said Sony Ericsson spokesman Peter Bodor.

Samsung is in no rush to launch its first 3G devices and is instead concentrating on making sure its handsets work well, said Samsung spokeswoman Denise Clark.

"We plan to have a product for trial at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. We want to have good talks with operators in order to make phones that can support the services they intend to offer," Clark said.