Hutchison Whampoa, owner of Europe's pioneering third generation mobile network '3,' has said it is confident the new service will take off .
The company, which launched its third generation (3G) service in the UK and Italy in March, said it had signed up a total of 520,000 subscribers so far - with 155,000 in the UK - and was on track to hit its target of one million users in both countries by the end of the year.
There had been speculation that Hutchison would scale back its subscriber targets amid reports that initial take-up of the new service had been slower than expected.
Hutchison said it had ordered three million new 3G handsets in anticipation of a surge in new subscriptions in the autumn and winter.
"Of course we are very confident. Otherwise, why do we bother to order three million handsets this year?" said Hutchison managing director Canning Fok.
Telecoms firms are counting on third generation mobile services, which allow users to send and receive video clips and browse the internet, to stimulate fresh demand in a mobile market that is approaching saturation point in most industrialised countries.
However, many companies, burdened with debt after paying hefty prices for the spectrum licences needed to operate the new services, have been forced to postpone the launch of their 3G networks.
Some analysts are sceptical that mass demand for the new services will materialise in the short term, arguing that few consumers will be willing to pay the hefty premiums levied by 3G operators.
In an effort to increase its market share, Hutchison has cut charges on its basic, voice-only service, competing directly with traditional mobile operators such as Vodafone.
Hutchison's optimistic 3G forecast came as the company, which also has interests in hotels, container ports, supermarkets, and oil, turned in a net profit of HK$ 6bn ($778m ; £466.8m) for the first six months of the 2003, up from HK$5.9bn during the same period last year.