Hutchison Whampoa’s UK 3G operator 3 yesterday announced that it had signed up more than three million customers in the UK, thanks to steadily increasing demand for its next-generation technology. As of 30 March 2005 the operator had 3.02 million UK customers, compared with 1.2 million in September 2004 and 361,000 a year ago, thanks in the main to its improved network coverage, a wider range of handsets and content, and general improvements in the 3G technology on offer. The company said it was pleased to report stronger-than-expected take-up of voice services, which helped boost monthly average revenues per user to GBP40.3. Nonetheless, the newcomer is not being complacent and expects competition to intensify in 2005. But it remains confident of its ability to continue to improve its market share and cement its position in the market. Hutchison Whampoa also has UMTS operations in Australia, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Hong Kong and Israel, and has more than eight million subscribers across these countries.
The Hong Kong-based conglomerate, owned by Li ka-Shing, has invested heavily in setting up its 3 business. Whampoa spent USD3 billion (GBP1.6 billion) last year on the new technology, but now hopes to soon begin making a return on the investment. Hutchison plans to float its Italian unit along with H3G UK towards the end of the year and says that ‘With the 3 group becoming self-financing in the 2005-2006 period, plans are already being made to put in place appropriate new capital structures for the Italy and UK businesses which will maximise their value contribution’. The group’s net income for 2004 rose by 38% to HKD16.1 billion (USD2 billion), up from a restated HKD11.68 billion in 2003. The 3 cellphone business reported an operating loss of HKD37.5 billion last year, and net losses of HKD25.3 billion, but predicts that this year’s loss will be ‘much, much less’.