3's a crowd, at lastThird-generation mobile operator 3 has announced 151,000 more UK connections and total user numbers of over one million across the markets it serves in Europe and in Hong Kong.
Figures for 3's last quarter show average revenue per user (ARPU) in the UK at a respectable £45 per month, despite criticism that the operator was somehow moving down the value chain by offering cheap voice tariffs as an incentive. The company now counts 361,000 UK customers.
The operator's parent, Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, has put out figures for the year ending 31 December 2003 showing that, excluding "3G start-up losses" and exceptional profits, overall profit increased 25 per cent to HK$15.2bn.
3G operations are now up and running in the Australia, Italy, Sweden, the UK and most recently Hong Kong, and handset sales have improved with newer models such as the e616 and e313.
However, the best-selling piece of kit for the 3 network in the UK seems to be a handset the operator doesn't sell itself, the Nokia 7600. Last month, Carphone Warehouse CEO Charles Dunstone spoke of the strong demand for this snazzy handset, which isn't endorsed by 3 because it doesn't support all the company's multimedia services and video calling.
Mako Analysis has reported sales figures as high as 8,000 per week for the 7600 as opposed to just over 2,000 for the next-best-selling 3 handset historically through Carphone Warehouse, Europe's largest mobile retailer.
A 3 spokesman declined to comment on whether Nokia will soon join Motorola and NEC as a preferred handset supplier, saying only that the operator "is talking to all the manufacturers all the time".
3 also sells it services in the UK through three flagship stores, 160 sales points in Superdrug - now a Hutchison Whampoa unit - Phones 4U, Dixons stores and independent shops, totalling 3,200 sales points.