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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 12:20 GMT
Hutchison hit by 3G phone losses
Hutchison 3, 3G service
Hutchison has been hindered by handset supply problems
Hutchison Whampoa said its 3G phone business, which operates in the UK, Italy and four other countries, remained a drain on profit in 2003.

The losses offset growth at its port, retail, real estate and power units.

Hutchison, owned by 75-year-old tycoon Li Ka-shing, blamed poor handset sales and is planning to sell assets to help fund the business it started last year.

It was optimistic about the outlook for the division, however, despite rivals preparing to launch their own services.

Met profit for Hutchison as a whole in 2003 was HK$14.38bn (US$1.84bn; 1bn), compared with HK$14.36 a year earlier

Pay back

Cash-rich Hutchison earlier this month said it would clear debts of 1.5bn ($2.7bn) at its 3G operations in the UK, ahead of schedule.

3G, or third generation phone services, let users transfer larger amounts of data more quickly, speeding up links to the Internet and allowing them to watch and send videos.

Users can also play games and participate in video conferencing.

While Hutchison launched the service last year, it claims to have been hampered by a lack of cheap and easy-to-use handsets.

That has prompted the company to change its forecasts and Hutchison now predicts a return to profitability in 2006 instead of 2005.

However, demand is picking up, albeit more slowly than first forecast.

Hutchison said it now had about 361,000 customers in the UK and about 453,000 in Italy.

Worldwide, the service now has more than 1 million users and Hutchison said recently it has been selling close to 10,000 3G handsets daily.

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