Hutchison scraps plan to float UK mobile arm

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The Independent Online

3 UK has scrapped plans to list its business and ruled out a sale of the company after pinning its hopes on innovative mobile broadband services that link a customer's mobile phone to their home computer and television.

3 is the smallest mobile network operator in the UK and has been the subject of takeover speculation after Vodafone said the business could be vulnerable to consolidation due to rampant competition and that it would consider acquiring the company if it was put up for sale.

Yet Canning Fok, the managing director of Hutchison Whampoa which owns 3, ruled out a sale . "It is not for sale. It is a very valuable business. I'm not sure how much money he [Mr Sarin] has," he said.

Mr Fok also ruled out plans to float the business as had been previously planned. "The time for flotation has passed," he said. After spending $25bn (£13bn) building the business in the UK, Mr Fok said that the company no longer needs major investment. "We are going toward the other side of the curve now," he said.

Hutchison had planned to float its Italian and UK mobile phone businesses but put its plans on ice earlier this year. Frank Sixt, chief financial officer of Hutchison, said the plans were pulled after a tepid market response.

3 UK expects to turn a profit in 2008, which is later than it had forecast due to rampant competition in the sector. It has invested in building its presence in the digital music market and in strengthening its presence on the high street, and has targeted new broadband services to increase its appeal to consumers.

The company has signed up a string of online technology partners to stimulate mobile internet access by offering new services under the "X-Series" banner. It hopes to attract high-spending customers by offering services unavailable through other providers.

3 customers will be able to use their mobile phone to connect to their home television's personal video recorder to watch shows while on the move as a result of its partnership with Sling Media. It has also struck a partnership with Orb that lets people use their handset remotely to access content stored on their computers, such as photos and digital music. It will also offer unlimited voice calls over the Skype internet service and unlimited instant messaging through partnerships with Yahoo! and Microsoft.

The network will alter its pricing structure to better reflect fixed-line broadband charges. On top of their mobile phone contract, customers will pay a flat fee for mobile broadband. It will reveal its pricing on 1 December when it launches the service but indicated that the more advanced functions will be available for less than the industry standard of £18 a month and the more basic services for even less.

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