Hutchison Whampoa's Indian mobile venture has acquired three operating licences for US$98.5 million at auction. Barakhamba Sales & Services (BSS) yesterday won a 1,800-megahertz mobile licence for the city of Madras and two others for Andhra Pradesh (including Hyberabad) and Karnataka states (including Bangalore), which would help expand its national coverage. A Hutchison spokesman said the company paid US$32.7 million for the Madras licence, US$21.9 million for the Andhra Pradesh one and US$43.9 million for the third. 'The additional licences will enable Hutchison to cover all four of India's major metropolitan areas,' she said. She noted that Hutchison's network now covered 230 million Indians, or 23 per cent of the country's population. The relatively affluent areas account for half of India's purchasing power. BSS, 49 per cent owned by Hutchison and 51 per cent by the local Essar Group and Kotak, had applied for a licence in Maharashtra, but failed. Last month, the Indian Government decided to hold an auction for a fourth licence in 22 areas to deregulate the market. Hutchison holds a 49 per cent stake in each of its ventures in Bombay, Delhi, Gujarat and Calcutta. Group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning said: 'The new licences will help our shareholders participate further in the rapid growth of the Indian cellular market. They build on our existing premium footprint with a strong exposure to the southern India hi-tech belt. The attractive prices paid will enable us to generate better returns from our overall investments.' It also was reported that Asim Ghosh, chief executive of Hutchison Max Telecom, said the venture would invest US$200 million, or twice as much as BSS had paid for the three licences, in building a mobile network in the three areas. In another reflection of its progress in third-generation (3G) services, Hutchison has named Japan's NEC as another supplier for its 3G wireless devices for the five countries for which it has licences. As with the contract it awarded to Motorola last month, Hutchison will introduce its 3G handsets in Britain, Italy, Sweden, Austria and Australia in the third quarter of next year. The value of the NEC contract was not disclosed. Under the agreement, NEC will provide dual-mode systems, which allow transitions among 2G, 2.5G and 3G mobile services, and handsets that can perform mobile data applications.