Mobile phone company 2degrees will start using its 3G network next week, putting it on a par with rivals Telecom and Vodafone.

Specialists are completing the final network testing, so it will be available only to a select group of customers.

But company spokeswoman Bryony Hilless said the 3G network would be available to all "sooner rather than later".

The higher data speeds available over 3G networks make the company's offers more attractive to users of mobile broadband and devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Chief technology officer at 2degrees Mike Goss said the 3G network was built at the same time as its 2G network, but it chose to switch on only the 2G elements at launch last year.

The past year had been spent slowly turning on the 3G network and optimising its operation.

Optimisation involves engineers driving around the country collecting and analysing data to ensure customers switch seamlessly between cell sites while on the move.

"This is far more complicated than the 2G network," said Goss.

"To optimise the 2G network would take us around two months; to optimise a 3G network you're looking at, realistically, to do it right, five to six months."

The company is acutely aware of the challenges faced by competitor Telecom when it began operating its 3G network.

Over the course of several months, Telecom's XT network suffered multiple hardware and software failures that led to customers south of Taupo losing service.

Much of the problem was blamed on Telecom's reliance on only two radio network controllers (a critical piece of network infrastructure) - one in Christchurch and one in Auckland.

Goss said the underlying technology for both networks was the same, albeit run over different radio spectrums, but 2degrees had a radio network in each of the cities covered by its network - Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Core-network chief engineer Nick Read said that in light of the XT experience 2degrees had been more cautious over the margin of safety the engineers adopted for the projections made by the company's sales and marketing team.

Goss said if the 2degrees 3G network went down, customers would automatically switch to the slower 2G data network.

Currently, the 2degrees network covered the main centres and Queenstown, approximately 48 per cent of the population, said Goss.

The company had designs on building out beyond that footprint with a due diligence process underway with vendors, he said.

Meanwhile, it had a roaming agreement with Vodafone whereby a 2degrees customer moved seamlessly to Vodafone's network when they moved beyond the reach of 2degrees.

While theoretical speeds on the 2degrees 3G network were 7.2 megabits per second, a typical customer experience would be around 1.5 megabits per second.

Goss said the network would be upgraded early next year to handle speeds of 14.4 megabits per second, with a further upgrade to 21 megabits per second the following year.

The company will refresh its pricing and device line-up when a launch date is announced.

Hilless confirmed microSIMs for use in the new iPhone 4 and iPads would be available from the company.

2degrees charges users $6 for 50 megabytes a month for data and 50c a megabyte for casual use.

Prepaid and on-account users on Vodafone pay $10 for 100MB a month or $1 a day for 10MB of data for casual use.

Telecom offers prepay XT customers 20MB a month for $6 or a casual rate of $1 a day for up to 10MB.

Telecom's on account customers can buy 10MB for $1 a day or a monthly data allocation starting at $6 for 20MB.

* 3G is the "third generation" of mobile network technology.
* Allows faster data speeds for mobile internet.
* Connects devices such as high-end phones and data sticks at similar speeds to fixed-line broadband.
* Mobile broadband speeds are less than 5 megabits per second at present but future network upgrades promise speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second.