Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa plans to sell next generation mobile phones in around 300 of its Superdrug chain of health and beauty stores by the end of next year.
The company, which owns 65 per cent of the yet-to-launch UK-based mobile phone operator 3, will set up concessions in 300 Superdrug stores in the UK to sell 3's third generation, or 3G, handsets.
The new gadgets, which will offer consumers services such as video over mobile, will also go on sale in three bespoke 3 stores in London's Oxford Street and High Street Kensington and in Birmingham.
Speculation is mounting, however, that those three outlets might not open for business as at the end of the month, as expected, thanks to technical glitches with the 3 service.
Earlier this week, 3 admitted that the consumer launch of its service might slip into 2003 and said it would not demonstrate the service in its stores or start selling it unless it was sure the kit would work.
3 had hoped to start demonstrating its 3G service in those shops in two to three weeks' time and had previously hoped to have paying customers by the end of this year. It claimed there was no "single, major" technical issue that might force a delay and said its trial, which began last month with 1,000 users, was going well.
The planned opening of the 300 concessions, in slightly less than half of the Superdrug shops in the UK, is a further sign of Hutchison's commitment to 3G mobile phone services.
The ports to telecoms giant, controlled by the Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, has so far refused to write down the value of its investments in 3G mobile even though its partners in 3 have both written down their investments.
NTT DoCoMo announced last month it had written down the value of its 20 per cent stake in 3 just over a month after the Dutch telecoms group KPN wrote down the value of its 15 per cent stake.
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