Mobile handset figures branded fake

Carphone Warehouse claims that the mobile industry is exaggerating the number of mobile users in the UK by counting abandoned handsets

Network operator Orange announced on Monday that it had gained 2.6 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2001, including 1.2 million new users in the UK. However, handset retail giant Carphone Warehouse has cast doubt on the accuracy of the ownership figures being claimed by the mobile industry.

Orange now has a total of 11 million users in Britain, and 33.1 million across the world. Unlike its major rivals in Britain, who announced their subscriber figures for Q1 2001, Orange does not seem to be experiencing a slowdown in attracting new users.

Adding together the latest user numbers from Orange, Vodafone, BT Cellnet and One2One suggests that there are over 43 million mobile phone users in the UK. This figure has been questioned by Carphone Warehouse which believes that the mobile phone companies are unfairly counting unused handsets in their figures.

Carphone Warehouse, Europe's largest handset retailer, believes that a large proportion of the sales of pre-pay and contract mobile phones is made up of existing pre-pay mobile users upgrading their handset or taking advantage of attractive subsidies.

Charles Dunstone, chairman and chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, told the Financial Times that "A lot of people buying pre-pay phones are not new to the market. They are just upgrading. This is not always obvious from the subscriber figures."

In these cases, even if the original pre-pay handset remains unused it will be counted as an extra phone user in the subscriber figures. Orange has already acknowledged that this is a problem, and is enforcing a policy of discounting unused pre-pay phones if they are not activated for three months.

Vodafone, which gained just over 600,000 new UK subscribers in Q1 2001, plans to enforce a three-month cut-off point in its future subscriber numbers. Currently, BT Cellnet discounts subscribers who have not used their mobile in the last six months, while One2One continues to count inactive mobiles for up to a year.

The boom in mobile phone ownership in the UK was fuelled by the generous subsidies offered by BT Cellnet, Vodafone, Orange and One2One. However, Britain's four mobile network operators recently decided to end this policy.

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