Vodafone today formally rolled out its 3G (third-generation) mobile communication products and services in 12 European countries and Japan.

The company expects 3G to begin gaining mass market acceptance next year, and forecasts over 10m customers will be using its Vodafone Live portal with 3G services by March 2006 in it subsidiaries.

"Our rough estimate is that the 3G service will be used by 10 percent of our base within the next 15 months," said Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin in a press conference that was also broadcast over the web.

Vodafone is seeking to make back its massive investment in 3G, including the £16.6bn) it spent on spectrum licenses four years ago. Competitors like Orange and T-Mobile are taking a slightly more cautious approach with the launch of their 3G services, which are expected by the end of the year. Overall, Europe's major mobile phone operators have spent more than €100bn (£70bn) on 3G licenses.

Vodafone is presenting 3G as an enhancement to its existing Vodafone Live portal, originally launched in October 2002, and is promoting 10 new 3G handsets, seven of which are exclusive to Vodafone, and services such as video calling, 3D arcade games, mobile TV and music downloads.

Vodafone's pricing for 3G will include two basic packages, said Bill Morrow, chief executive of Vodafone UK, at the news conference. The £40 a month bundle offers 500 minutes of voice calls, 100 text messages, 50 minutes of video calls and £0.60 for sending each prerecorded video message. The £60 a month bundle increases those offers, for example, offering 1,000 minutes of voice calls.