NTT DoCoMo evaluates link with Hutchison 3G

NTT DoCoMo Inc. is discussing strategic plans for its investment in U.K. mobile operator Hutchison 3G UK Holdings Ltd. with the U.K. company and its Hong Kong parent, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., DoCoMo said Tuesday. The Japanese company stopped short of confirming a newspaper report claiming it had already begun negotiations to end its investment.

DoCoMo "has been considering strategic plans" with Hutchison Whampoa and Hutchison 3G UK, it said in a faxed statement. It intends to continue good relations with both companies and has made no decision about ending its investment, it said. The company, Japan's largest cellular operator, owns a 20 percent stake in the U.K. mobile operator.

The statement was issued after Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily reported in its Tuesday evening edition that NTT DoCoMo had begun negotiations to pull out of Hutchison 3G.

NTT DoCoMo acquired its stake in mid-2000 as part of a strategy that saw it invest in several foreign mobile phone operators as a way to promote the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) 3G (third-generation) mobile standard and its I-mode wireless Internet platform. Although Hutchison 3G adopted the WCDMA standard for its network, it has shown no interest in launching I-mode, making the U.K. one of the few major European markets where the service is not available.

The Japanese operator already appears to have given up hoping that Hutchison 3G will launch I-mode. At a news conference in Tokyo in February, NTT DoCoMo President and chief executive officer Keiji Tachikawa said his company was open to talks with any U.K. mobile operator interested in launching the service.

Late last year, Dutch operator KPN Mobile NV sold its 15 percent stake in Hutchison 3G back to Hutchison Whampoa.

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