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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 15:22 GMT
BT Cellnet holds off Orange
Men talk on mobile phones
Strong Christmas sales boosted operators' subscriber numbers
BT Cellnet has held on to second position among the UK's mobile phone network operators, adding 1.5 million net new customers in the fourth quarter of 2000.

France Telecom's Orange had mounted a strong challenge to the British Telecommunications subsidiary, adding 1.56 million net new customers of its own in the quarter.

UK mobile phone sales, Q4 2000
Orange 1.6 million
BT Cellnet 1.5 million
Vodafone 1.4 million
One2One 1.2 million
Total 5.7 million
But Cellnet's best ever quarter in terms of subscriber growth took its total customer base in the UK to 10.2 million compared with Orange's 9.8 million.

All four of the UK's operators have now reported subscriber numbers, showing that 5.7 million mobiles were sold in the UK in September-December 2000 - ahead of analyst expectations.

Some 40.1 million people in the UK, or 67% of the population, now have a mobile phone.

Vodafone on top

Vodafone remains the UK's and world's biggest network operator with 11.7 million UK customers and 78.7 million worldwide.

UK mobile phone groups, customer base
Vodafone 11.7 million
BT Cellnet 10.2 million
Orange 9.8 million
One2One 8.3 million
Total 40.1 million
The UK's smallest operator - Deutsche Telekom-owned One2One - said it added 1.2 million customers in the quarter, taking its total customer base to 8.3 million.

Some 262,000 new customers were added as a result of its Virgin Mobile joint venture with the Virgin Group.

One million with Wap

Cellnet said its number of contract customers grew in the period but it declined to say how its customers divided between these post-pay users and less profitable pay-as-you-go users.

Of its total customers, 3.55 million were post-pay while 6.69 million were pre-pay, it said.

More than one million had Wap (wireless application protocol) phones, allowing internet access.

Cellnet managing director Dave McGlade said: "This is evidence that our ability to predict and respond imaginatively to buying needs of the public has strengthened."

Other indicators

One2One managing director Harris Jones said the industry should now consider other indicators of commercial performance rather than just customer growth.

These would include diversity of phone use, customer loyalty and volume of network traffic, he said.

His comments echoed analyst warnings that operators risked sacrificing profits in the battle for greater customer numbers.

Many of the phones purchased in the Christmas period will have gone to people such as children who might not use them enough to justify the operators' subsidising of handset prices, analysts say.

Analysts are now focusing more on average revenue per customer when judging mobile groups.

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