3 brings 3G to pay-as-you-go

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The Independent Online

The mobile phone operator 3 will unveil its long-awaited attack on the pre-pay market today, nearly a year after it launched its contract services in the UK.

The company, which is controlled by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, had been hoping to launch a low-cost "pay-as-you-go" service before Christmas to help boost its disappointing subscriber numbers. A shortage of handsets, however, meant that launch had to be delayed.

The company has more recently said it should manage to offer a pre-pay service in the first quarter of this year.

Today's assault on the market - designed to increase up-take of the 3 mobile phone service - is thought to have been given the go-ahead after the company got in more handsets from manufacturers NEC and Motorola.

3G, which has yet to be launched by other mobile phone operators, offers consumers a host of new services such as making and receiving video calls and watching short video clips on their phones.

Until now, 3's 3G service has been available only on a contract basis, with prices starting from about £15 a month.

The company abandoned a target of having 1 million users in the UK by the end of last year. While the company has so far won only a very small share of the UK mobile phone market since launching last March, its progress continues to be keenly watched. Last December, Hutchison announced that 3 had added just 55,000 customers in the past four months, taking the total to 210,000.

The company, which has spent millions of pounds advertising its video phone service, will be hoping to win a decent chunk of pre-pay customers before its rivals launch 3G services later in the year.