Hutchison Whampoa delays 3G launch

The mobile phone operator 3 admitted yesterday it would not launch its third generation mobile phone service before Christmas as it emerged that its first handset could go on sale for as little as £200.

The company, which is controlled by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, said it would give its first 20,000 customers, who have pre-registered on its website, special discounts. Those customers are expected to be offered a discount of up to 50 per cent on the price of the 3G handset, which would start at around £399.

It also said those initial customers could sign up for a 12-month phone package costing £59.99 a month or £99.99 a month. The tariffs include bundles of voice calls and video calls as well as text and picture messages. It plans to unveil other tariffs nearer the launch.

But the company, which had originally hoped to have paying customers in the UK by the end of the year, admitted the launch would be late thanks to ongoing technical hitches. A spokesman said it now seemed "pretty unlikely" that 3 would launch before Christmas although he noted the launch was now just "weeks" away. "It's not quite ready yet," he said. "We're nearly there, but not quite."