British cellular operator Orange - 49 per cent owned by Hutchison Whampoa - has moved closer to breaking even, reporting a loss last year of GBP139 million (about HK$1.77 billion). In 1996, Orange, which runs Britain's third-largest mobile network, lost GBP229 million. Group managing director Hans Snook said Orange had a good year taking a quarter of total net market growth. By the end of December, Orange had 1,201,000 subscribers amounting to a 53 per cent year-on-year growth and giving it a market share of 14.2 per cent. The British market continues to be dominated by Vodafone and Cellnet, which each have about 40 per cent of the total subscriber base. Group turnover for the year jumped by 48 per cent to GBP913 million with the British cellular business accounting for most of that increase. The Orange group also has businesses selling cellular airtime in France and Germany. The results include a full 12 months contribution from these businesses against only nine months in 1996. Investment bank Merrill Lynch forecast Orange would break even this year, moving into profit next year. Next year, Merrill Lynch said it expected Orange would become the biggest contributor to Hutchison's telecoms division. Orange faces challenges as the British market becomes more competitive. After aggressive tariff cuts in 1995, the firm's rivals have slashed prices leaving Orange as the most expensive of the mobile networks. Analysts said this was affecting the firm's growth. 'In the first quarter, Orange took 41.5 per cent of new mobile phone subscribers but by the last quarter that figure had slowed to 18.2 per cent,' Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull telecoms analyst Andrew Moffat said. The company said it planned to triple the number of its stores this year giving it a greater high street presence.