Users are beginning to show interest in new third-generation (3G) higher-speed mobile phones after operators, particularly in Europe, spent lavishly to market the new service in the run-up to the crucial holiday buying season.

At the start of this year, more than 16 million people worldwide owned 3G phones based on the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) standard, according to the UMTS Forum, an industry body. The group counted 10 million users worldwide in September 2004.

WCDMA is the faster-speed, packet-based successor to the second-generation Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM ) standard, which dominates the European market and is widely used in Asia and many parts of the Americas.

Most licenses for WCDMA-based networks were awarded between 2000 and 2001, but operators were slow to roll out commercial service because of technical problems — and money. European operators alone spent more than