UK is mobile phone laggard

Xmas sales bonanza still leaves us trailing most of Europe

The UK is lagging behind its European counterparts in mobile phone use, despite surging Christmas sales. More than four million UK punters bought a mobile in the final quarter of 1999, making a total of 24 million users or almost 40 per cent of the population. Orange gained the most new subscribers, netting 1.4 million new customers - 836,000 of whom joined in December. It now boasts over five million users, second only to Vodafone's 7.94 million in the UK. Vodafone added 1.1 million customers in the Christmas quarter. All four of the country's main operators gained at least 900,000 users each in the October to December period. BT Cellnet signed up 1 million, slightly ahead of One2One's 903,000. Virgin Mobile, the joint venture between the Richard Branson empire and One2One gained 100,000 customers in its first seven weeks. Around 300,000 of new subscribers were schoolchildren. According to today's Times newspaper, mobile phones were the most requested Christmas present for British kids aged 10 to 15. But the UK is still playing catch up to much of Europe. According to figures last December, Finland had the highest percentage of users, with 65 per cent of its population owning one of the devices. This was followed by fellow Scandinavians Norway and Iceland with 61 per cent, and Sweden with 57 per cent. In fact, most of the continent had a higher percentage of users than the UK, today's Financial Times reported. Italy claimed 50 per cent, and Portugal 44 per cent. This put the UK in twelfth place, with 37 per cent of the population owning a mobile in the pre-Christmas buying rush. ® Related stories: Mobile phone boom expected for festive season One in three Brits owns a mobile phone It's official: Mobile phones give you diarrhoea

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