Motorola buys hong's mobile arm

HUTCHISON Telecommunications will sell its 70 per cent share of Hutchison Mobile Data to the company's joint-venture partner and technology provider, United States firm, Motorola.

In a separate deal, Hutchison will increase its share of the Hutchison Paging unit from 70 to 75 per cent, while Motorola's share drops from 30 to 25 per cent.

Both new shareholding arrangements will be ratified later this month.

Hutchison relinquished its share of Hutchison Mobile Data (HMD) after four years of losses, though the company has retained the right to re-purchase its 70 per cent stake within three years.

HMD managing director Mr Waleed Hanafi would not disclose the value of the transactions and said the deals would have little impact on the companies at an operational level.

He said mobile data - which will eventually support the much talked-about wireless personal digital assistant (PDAs) devices such as Apple's Newton - was still at an immature stage of technology.


''It was a mutual feeling between Hutchison and Motorola that it would be useful to re-adjust the shareholdings to reflect the stage the businesses were at,'' Mr Hanafi said.

He said the mobile data market was at a stage that would benefit from a greater hands-on management role of technologists, rather than the ''investment banker'' management role that Hutchison tends to play in these kind of ventures.

Mr Hanafi predicted the market would progress quickly over the next year, and said PDA devices would be available in volume on the network by the end of the year.

A series of product launches of the hand-held PDA units was expected over the next three months, most notable will be a long-anticipated announcement from US-based firm General Magic (see Page 6).


General Magic is a three way joint-venture between technology and consumer product giants Apple Computer, Motorola and Sony of Japan.

The marketing and technology clout of the these companies are expected to give the mobile market an enormous shot in the arm.


''Where we are going is with the personal digital assistants. That's what all this is about,'' Mr Hanafi said.

''We are going to see these things during 1993 - watch out for General Magic announcing February 8,'' he said. ''These guys have really done something absolutely stunning.'' In the meantime, Mr Hanafi said Motorola's acquisition of Hutchison's HDS share would have little or no impact on the operation of the company.

''We retain the Hutchison name, there are no changes in terms and conditions of employment and staff are still in the provident fund,'' he said.


''This is all at the shareholder level, there is no impact at the operation of the business.

''But what I do have is a better voice back into the Motorola organisation - to talk to the factory, to get ideas built. It is a better channel of communication, so I view this very positively.'' He said Hutchison still liked the potential of mobile data.

''By holding a three-year option means [Hutchison] certainly haven't missed the point at all,'' Mr Hanafi said.


''They are getting the best of both worlds. They are letting [mobile data] be managed by a different team for a while, but with the option to get fully involved later.'' HMD was formed in 1988, and has so far had only a moderate impact on the market, largely because there has been no adequate subscriber device.

The company has concentrated on writing application software for its network so it can offer value added services - such as MobileQuote, or the hand-held betting terminal - and claims to be five years ahead of rivals in the business.

''Our limit to growth up to now has really been the lack of a subscriber device,'' Mr Hanafi said.

''People tend to talk about cellular [telephone technology] as if it was an overnight success, but really it was 20 years before it made it - and Motorola and other manufacturers had very nearly given up on on it,'' he said.

''I couldn't have stayed with this for this long if I didn't believe that something bigger and better was going to happen. I didn't have the term PDA in my head, but it was always about the fact that there would be a portable wireless device out.''