The e606 was developed by NEC for Hutchison Whampoa, the parent company of the Three-branded networks. It was one of the first commercially available 3G-capable handsets in the UK, together with the NEC e808
and the Motorola A830
A major claim to fame for the e606 is that it was used by the UK’s Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, to make a “public mobile video call” on the launch day of Three’s 3G mobile network to Canning Fok, the Group Managing Director of Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd (the majority owner of Three at the time).
Picture Credit: Hutchison 3G UK
Three (stylised as 3) was the UK’s first 3G network and it was launched on the auspicious date of 03/03/03 (3 March 2003).
The network was marketed as “the UK’s first commercial video mobile network” and there had been a huge amount of hype around 3G technology in the build-up the much-delayed launch. The company promised to deliver completely new video-based experiences such as goal highlights from the F.A. Premier League Football matches and the ability to share video clips.
The e606 also allowed users their first experience of video calling over a 3G network thanks to its built-in front-facing camera. However, after all the hype, it turned out to be an underwhelming experience and most users were left wondering why they would want to use video calling, particularly at £0.50 per min (approx. $0.65).
The phone is not remembered fondly by those who were involved with it at the time. It had appalling battery life, which was particularly impacted when making a video call. Three ended up shipping each device with two batteries to try and overcome this.
The user experience was also very poor. Different elements of the user interface were designed by different teams leading to huge inconsistencies. A good example of this was that the soft keys constantly changed their purpose depending on which menu options you were using.
The phone was also extremely slow to load web pages, which was a major issue given the promises that had been made about the fast network performance that 3G would deliver.
Another challenge was that the e606 was a bulky device compared to much slimmer 2G devices on offer at the time such as the tiny Siemens SL55
From a technical perspective the device was also hugely problematic. Due to an issue with the rake receiver
used in the e606, it caused serious problems on the network if thousands of e606 devices were being used at the same time.
The e606 deserves its place in history as one of the first commercially available 3G phones in Europe, but there is little more to commend its place in mobile phone history.