Virgin claims it is winning one-fifth of new mobile phone subscribers

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The Independent Online

Virgin Mobile yesterday boasted that it is winning nearly one in five of all new mobile phone subscriptions in the UK, after more than a quarter of a million new customers signed up to the service in the fourth quarter of last year.

The company, jointly owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and the Deutsche Telekom-owned One2One, said it won 264,359 new customers in the final quarter of last year, a 54 per cent increase from the third quarter although flat from a year earlier.

Based on an estimate that there were 1.5 million new mobile phone customers in the UK in the final three months of last year, Virgin Mobile calculated its share of the market for new phone users increased to 18 per cent from 5 per cent in the same quarter a year earlier.

Analysts, however, were sceptical about the company's claims, pointing out that actual figures for the final quarter of the year had yet to be released.

Vodafone, mmO2, which owns the Cellnet brand, and Orange are not expected to release their subscriber figures until the end of this month.

Furthermore, they noted the bulk of Virgin Mobile's customers are the less lucrative 'pre-pay' customers. Vodafone, mmO2, Orange and One2One are all gunning for the more lucrative 'contract' customers to increase their average revenues per customer.

Sir Richard said: "We have continually outperformed market trends, despite not having pursued a dramatically-subsidised pricing policy in order to attract customers."

Virgin Mobile said yesterday it now had a total of 1.445 million customers as at 31 December and had won 770,549 new customers overall during the year.

The company, which expects to become profitable early this year, is known as a 'mobile virtual network operator' since it does not own its own network. Instead it buys a service from One2One and resells it.