3 prepares for G and launch of £400 phone

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The Independent Online

The svelte young men are all dressed in regulation black. The frontage is a blend of frosted glass and sweeping logos, and inside the minimalist, scrubbed decor is reminiscent of an upmarket manicure parlour. Welcome to the first store in Britain to sell third-generation mobile phones.

The svelte young men are all dressed in regulation black. The frontage is a blend of frosted glass and sweeping logos, and inside the minimalist, scrubbed decor is reminiscent of an upmarket manicure parlour. Welcome to the first store in Britain to sell third-generation mobile phones.

The handsets, which will allow subscribers to conduct video conversations and download film clips, go on sale in spring at a distinctly cool price of about £400.

The flagship store in London's Oxford Street is owned by 3, the newest entrant into the UK mobile market and the first to launch a 3G service. Yesterday 3, which is owned by the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, was putting its handsets through their paces ­ demonstrating live video calls.

The launch of 3's 3G service, which was delayed from the autumn thanks to technical hitches, is now expected over the course of the next month although speculation is mounting the service will go live on 03/03/03.

A spokesman said yesterday that 90 per cent of the issues to be resolved prior to the launch were "cosmetic" while 10 per cent were technical matters relating to the "speed and stability" of the service.

Consumers signing up will be offered a choice of three handsets and will be able to download short video clips as well as make video calls and take and send photographs.

The Oxford Street store, which has a fashionable but clinical all-white interior and which is manned by staff in modern black uniforms while trendy music plays in the background, is one of the group's three flagship shops.

The other two shops are in London's High Street Kensington and in Birmingham, although the company is also planning to have around 20 concessions in the Superdrug health and beauty chain ready in time for the launch.

3 has previously said it will give the first 20,000 customers, who have pre-registered on its website, special discounts. They will be offered a discount of up to 50 per cent on the price of the 3G mobile phone handset, which will cost around £399. Almost 40,000 people are said to have registered an interest in the 3 service on its website so far.

The company hopes to have around 1 million customers in the UK and Italy by the end of 2003.

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