Hutchison 3G's mobile phone network, 3, has struck a deal to sell handsets through 20 Superdrug chemists chain stores. Parent company Hutchison Whampoa bought the Superdrug chain last year as part of a wider deal.
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So far the company claims to have had orders for about 10,000 handsets and is reported to have started delivery to customers following its high-profile launch last month at which customers could only pre-order handsets. The handsets cost between £399 and £499 and allow users to make video calls and watch video clips.
Analysts have said that there is unlikely to be any business use of 3G technology in the short term as many data tasks can be carried out with so-called 2.5G technologies such as GPRS more cheaply.
Hutchison also announced last week it was preparing to give its 3G operation another £800m of funding.
The race to develop 3G services began in Spring 2000 when the UK Radiocommunications Agency auctioned off the radio spectrum necessary for cellular companies to provide high-speed data services to mobile phones.
The auction, which was a transparent one so that all players could see each others' bids, was enabled by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1998. It was specifically designed to include five separate bandwidths to attract an extra player in addition to the existing four incumbents (Orange, Vodafone, British Telecom Cellnet, and One2One). The fifth bandwidth was snapped up by Hutchison 3G UK, a new entrant.
Overall, the licences raised £22.5bn in funds for the government. The lowest amount paid by a service provider was £4bn by Orange, while Vodafone paid £6bn.