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Mobilephoneco 3 has around 361,000 punters in the UK, after adding 151,000 new subscribers since the middle of December.

In a trading update, 3 reports that ARPU (average revenue per user) is £45 a month while its pay-as-you-go offer deal - ThreePay - has been "well received by retailers and consumers".

The mobilephoneco also reports that it has improved its customer service operation while the reliability of its network has also got better.

Overall, 3 - owned by Hutchison Whampoa - has just over a million punters worldwide, with 361,000 in the UK, 453,000 in Italy and 36,500 in Hong Kong.

Although Hutch's 3G operations reported a total turnover of HK$2.02bn (£142m), net loss after tax for the mobilephoneco business stood at HK$9.67bn (£680m).

The company explained that the limited availability of handsets last year "seriously impaired" its ability to increase its customer base at the end of 2003. Now that this issue has been resolved and handsets are now available in "commercial quantities", 3 tells us that sales have "progressed very well".

In a statement Hutch's top man, tycoon Li Ka-shing, said: "Although the 3G operations experienced a lack of handset supply in the second half of the year which prevented a full start-up, handsets are now being delivered in commercial quantities and new handset suppliers are entering the market.

"With good quality networks in place and an ample supply of handsets, we are confident that in 2004 the 3G operations will grow into solid businesses."

This month Hutch said it would pay off more than £1bn of debt for its sibling. ®

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