Hutchison muscles in on 3G mast push

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The Independent Online

Hutchison 3G, Britain's newest mobile phone operator, is hoping to gatecrash the tie-up between mmO2 and Deutsche Telekom to build new masts in Britain and Germany.

Controlled by the powerful Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, the mobile operator approached mmO2 earlier this month about joining the venture to build 3G infrastructure.

MmO2, the former mobile arm of BT, and T-Mobile, the mobile division of Deutsche Telekom that owns One2One, joined forces last June to share the costs of building masts. The companies estimated that the venture would save them £3bn and would reduce the number of new UK masts by 10,000.

If Hutchison were to join the venture, costs could be reduced further. The plan has still to be approved by Brussels. MmO2 and Deutsche Telekom made a joint submission to the European Commission late last month.

Initially unhappy about the prospect of mast-sharing on competitive grounds, the Commission has softened its stance; the tie-up is now expected to be rubber-stamped.

Hutchison 3G refused to comment. A spokesman formmO2 said: "We are open to any enhancements to the current agreement with T-Mobile that could be made by bringing in another party."

Third-generation phones offer users high-speed internet access, allowing music and video to be downloaded from the web. MmO2 and T-Mobile plan to launch 3G in 2003, but Hutchison hopes to be first with services this year.

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