Vodafone has announced plans to launch 15 new 3G (third-generation) mobile phone handsets in time for the Christmas season. Analysts expect this campaign to be more successful than a similar one the company rolled out last year.

Towards the end of 2004, Vodafone unveiled some large, expensive phones that weren't particularly attractive across the market, said Ben Wood, a research vice-president at Gartner. "It was more about placating the investors," he commented.

Mobile operators have come under pressure to offer a return on the money they spent on the licences and network gear required to provide 3G services.

This year, however, marks a change for Vodafone.

"Vodafone has got serious about 3G now," Wood said. "It is using its size and purchasing power to put together the best portfolio of 3G phones and services."

Six of the new phones to be offered by the firm will be geared toward the entry-level mass market. Ten of the 15 will be exclusive to Vodafone.

Most of the phones will be available across all of the countries where the firm operates 3G services - these include the UK, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Germany - although it will be up to the individual markets to decide which devices they will sell, a Vodafone spokesman said.

The new additions to the company’s handset line up may help it compete more effectively in the 3G space, particularly with Hutchison 3G UK. Hutchison operates the network branded as 3 in the UK, Ireland and other countries, and offers a low-price 3G service with a wide portfolio of services. As a result, the operator has become synonymous with 3G.

"The other network operators are starting to get their story together so they can take the fight back to Hutchison and try to take the 3G mindshare back from them," Wood said. "The gloves are off. We're going to see aggressive competition for 3G."