Hutchison's 3G growth slows, customers top 13.5 million

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. now serves over 13.5 million 3G (third-generation) mobile phone customers worldwide, but the rate at which it adds new users has slowed down substantially.

For the first six months of this year, the company's 3G subscriber growth was just 16 percent, Hutchison said in its interim report on Thursday. Compared to the 66 percent growth it gauged for all of last year, this year's growth is sluggish. The 13.5 million figure is as of Aug. 23.

Hutchison blamed stiff competition for its slowdown in 3G subscriber growth, particularly in the U.K., its second largest 3G market. It noted that customer churn rates were higher than it had expected, at 3.2 percent.

The company also said its 3G business won't break even this year, despite narrowing losses in the first half of the year.

Growth in 3G customers is important globally because the much-hyped service has been slow to catch on. More customers are needed to justify building out new services for 3G users, but many users are reluctant to switch over to 3G from current services because there appears to be little reason to do so -- most people use their handsets for voice calls and short messages. Operators hope new services can attract more users.

Hutchison Whampoa is based in Hong Kong and also runs extensive port and service operations, and owns properties, hotels, and other businesses including retail and investments, Its 3 Group has been the leader in collecting data from its global telecommunications operations, which include subscribers in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Sweden and the U.K.

Italy topped all other countries for the group with over 6.8 million 3G subscribers, followed by the U.K. and Ireland with 3.75 million, Hutchison said.

The 3G customer data includes 3 Group subscribers as well as those from Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd., a stock market listed company associated to Hutchison Whampoa.

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