"Germany is expected to be Europe's hottest mobile phone market in 2000 with analysts projecting rapid growth in customer numbers as the launch of new data services gives the highly-prized sector an extra kick.
"Despite figures from Germany's two leading operators Mannesmann AG and Deutsche Telekom AG on Wednesday showing user growth of almost two thirds in 1999, Europe's largest economy still lags many continental rivals.
"Only around 27 percent of Germans own a cellphone, well below mobile penetration of at least 35 percent in Britain and half the levels in Italy and some Scandinavian countries.
"That leaves room for spectacular growth -- particularly as the launch of phones capable of browsing the Internet and sending e-mails draws ever closer -- a key factor persuading the world's biggest cellphone company Vodafone AirTouch Plc to launch a record $134 billion hostile bid for Mannesmann.
``Next year is going to be huge,'' Lehman Brothers telecoms analyst Jo Oliver said. ``If you want to be in the German market, you have to be in cellular.''
"Former Dutch state phone monopoly KPN Telecom NV agreed, taking a majority stake in Germany's third-largest cellphone group E-Plus earlier this month in a 18.7 billion euro ($18.8 billion) deal and thwarting a rival bid from France Telecom SA.
``Germany offers the highest European growth potential in the near future,'' KPN said after buying into E-Plus.