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Orange slams Three's ‘bad PR’ for 3G

Suffering network and handset problems, allegedly

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Orange has accused Three and its parent company, Hutchison, of bringing 3G technology into disrepute.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday newspaper yesterday, Orange's UK finance director, Mike Newnham, claimed that Three customers were having to return their videophone handsets to the company's shops because the hardware doesn't work properly.

"I think customers that have decided to buy a handset are having problems with networks and handsets," Newnham alleged. "There are a lot of issues they are facing which are technical involving handsets and the networks."

Three admitted that it has had problems, but stressed that these were minor issues: "This is a new technology and when you launch a new technology, there is an element of having teething problems," a spokesman told the paper.

He also dismissed Newnham's other claim: that Three's pricing strategy is unsustainable. Three prices are much lower than Orange's, he said, adding that Orange was simply being left behind. Orange is not expected to launch a 3G service of its own until 2004.

Three began offering its 3G service in March. So far, its coverage is limited. It can provide voice telephony and picture messaging throughout most of the UK, but videophone coverage is largely limited to the country's biggest metropolitan areas and the major road and rail routes linking them.

It does, after all, take time to roll out a full service, as Orange well knows. Early Orange subscribers - including this reporter - will recall that back in 1994, when Orange launched, its digital service was similarly much-reduced.

Hutchison claims to be selling 3000-4000 3G handsets each week through Carphone Warehouse alone.

As Scotland on Sunday points out, all this is typical of the mud-slinging common in the highly competitive mobile phone arena. The irony here is that Three, owned by Hutchison, comes in from criticism from Orange, formerly owned by... Hutchison. ®

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