Vodafone is "on track" to launch 3G (third generation) mobile services in Japan and Europe in June 2002, the company's chief executive Chris Gent said yesterday.

"Next year 3G is very much going to be introduced — our plans are still on target — but I don't expect there to be any decent volumes of 3G pick-up by consumers until 2003," Gent said.

Speaking at a news conference, Gent also outlined Vodafone's tender offer, announced earlier in the day, to take full control of Japan Telecom – a move which will cost around £1.8bn.

Vodafone, the world's largest mobile phone operator, already owns a 45 percent stake in Japan Telecom and a 46 percent stake in Japan Telecom's cellular unit, J-Phone, Japan's third-largest mobile phone operator. Vodafone is aiming to own a "super majority" stake in both companies &mdash more than 65 percent of each — by the time its tender offer is completed on 26 October.

A number of companies, including J-Phone, Japan's major player NTT DoCoMo and BT have been forced to push back the launch of services using 3G technologies that were planned for the second half of this year.

Other companies that, like Vodafone, have not been planning to launch any 3G services until the second half of 2002 — such as Hutchison 3G and Orange — have recently taken pains to assure investors, consumers and industry observers that their plans are still on course.

Gent also stressed that general acceptance of the GPRS (general packet radio service) system, originally just a stepping stone to 3G, would begin to take off by the end of the year.

"I think you will find [from] next month a much wider range of GPRS handsets, notably from Nokia. We are also planning the launch of GPRS unified messaging and universal messaging which will greatly improve the take-up of GPRS," Gent said.

Gent expects GPRS to be the predominant mobile standard for the next three years, as consumers will be less likely to replace their newly acquired GPRS handsets with 3G ones until all the kinks in the 3G networks and services are ironed out after launch.