The British public will get the chance to experience a third-generation mobile phone later this year, when Hutchison 3G opens three shops in the UK.
However, Hutchison is not publicly setting a date for the commercial launch of its 3G service in the UK.
The stores, located on Oxford Street and High Street Kensington in London and in Central Birmingham, will allow people to trial a 3G phone and to use 3 -- Hutchison 3G's service. They will open for business before the end of 2002, probably in November.
"These shops are places where people can visit and experience the first working 3G handsets in the UK," Edward Brewster, Hutchison 3G spokesman, told ZDNet UK.
Hutchison 3G is currently shipping 1,000 3G handsets, including 500 in the UK, to what it describes as "friends of the company". These people will give the company feedback about its service, giving it the chance to fix any problems before moving onto a wider distribution.
Brewster would not give a date for the commercial launch of 3, explaining that the company is taking an "incremental approach" to the issue.
"We're not committing to a strict timetable. This is virgin territory, so we're not moving to the next phase until we've addressed any problems arising from the current phase," Brewster explained, adding that this is the only sensible approach, given the complexity of launching a 3G network.
The next phase will be a larger shipment of handsets, to 'friends of friends' in Brewster's words, for a further phase of testing and feedback. This is likely to be followed by commercial shipments.
"The company hopes to have paying 3G customers by the end of this year," said Brewster.
Hutchison 3G will take delivery of 10,000 more 3G handsets in November, and should have received a total of 100,000 -- from NEC and Motorola -- by the end of 2002 for its UK and Italy operations.
It's not yet clear how much these handsets will cost to consumers, as this will depend how much Hutchison 3G subsidises the price. Some reports have estimated that it could be as little as £200.