Mobile subscriber figures beat forecast

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BRITAIN'S MOBILE phone sector continued to boom in the second quarter to end-June, according to new subscriber figures released by BTCellnet, Orange and One2One yesterday.

The number two, three and four operators continued to battle it out behind Vodafone, the market leader. BTCellnet won 501,000 new customers, raising its total number of customers to 5.02 million. It also announced a 10 per cent cut in call tariffs.

In the second quarter, meanwhile, Orange added 430,000 net new subscribers, raising its total customer based to 2.98m. One2One, which is currently up for sale for an estimated pounds 10bn, gained 401,000 net new users, taking its customer base to 2.65m. Neither of the operators are profitable, though both are gaining market share from the leaders. The figures suggest that more than 1.8 million Britons signed up for mobile phone services in the second quarter. Vodafone is expected to unveil their second quarter gains early next week.

The announcements came as the telecoms watchdog Oftel said yesterday that it would monitor Vodafone and BTCellnet's mobile calling charges. Oftel has previously regulated fixed-line calling charges but has not imposed a regulatory regime on the mobile sector.

David Edmonds, director general said complaints from consumers about mobile firms have more than doubled, though he acknowledged that mobile calling charges have fallen by 10 per cent in the past six months. "It does suggest there is continued need for regulators to keep an eye on this market."

Oftel will also focus on the competitive relationship between service providers owned by the network operators and independently owned service providers. Mr Edmonds said yesterday that some evidence has emerged that tied service providers are being favoured over independent counterparts.

Orange, meanwhile, unveiled a series of data services yesterday that will make it the first British mobile operator to offer wireless Internet access later this year. It will also launch, on 16 July, an interactive, multi-purpose voice activated message service called Wildfire.

Hans Snook, chief executive, said the advent of handsets able to handle data would eventually transform the mobile and Internet markets. He added that the cost to the Orange for the new services was already included in its network investment.