The UK arm of Hutchison 3G, majority-owned by Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, said it expected the 3G handsets to be delivered to customers within the next two weeks.
"We started taking orders last Thursday, now we just have to deliver the handsets," said Keith Bradley, Commercial Director of 3 UK, at a party to celebrate the date, described as just another part of a "phased launch" of the third generation (3G) service.
The management has said it should know by Christmas whether the launch of the sophisticated but relatively expensive cell phone service was a success. Handsets will sell for £399 to £449 ($630-$708), though early buyers will get a discount.
Hutchison will battle established rivals Vodafone Group, Orange, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile and mmO2 after a launch that has been delayed since early 2001 by handset shortages and software glitches.
The other operators, which unlike UK 3 enjoy steady revenue from current generation mobile phones, have adopted a more cautious approach to launch their own 3G services.
Hutchison's 3 UK unit, spearheading a nine-country launch along with Italy, seems cautiously optimistic after months of market research on demand for 3G services including video calls, colour video clips, picture messaging and Internet browsing.
3 UK is offering three packages: a pay-as-you-go deal with no monthly rental and two packages with bundled voice, video and e-mail allowances priced at 60 and 100 pounds per month.
The costs of voice calls will range from 10 to 25 pence per minute, depending on the rival network called. Calls to other "3" users will cost five pence per minute. The phones will also allow users to send picture messages to current 2G handsets.
3 UK, which is also partly owned by Japan's NTT DoCoMo and Dutch operator KPN Telecom, sells handsets made by Japan's NEC and U.S.-based Motorola.
Launches under the "3" brand are also planned for Sweden, Hong Kong, Australia, Austria, Israel, Denmark and Ireland this year, and Hutchison hopes to sell around two million new phones in Europe by the end of this year.