Hutchison Whampoa is working towards launching its third-generation (3G) mobile phone services in Britain, Italy and Hong Kong later this year. The services are seen as the conglomerate's most important business plan for the year. The initial services will be on the market in Britain in the fourth quarter, followed by Italy and Hong Kong. Group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning said Hutchison would unveil a brand for its global 3G service this year. Handsets, infrastructure, system integration and content applications were under trial. 'Our 3G business is at the execution phase,' Mr Fok said. Hutchison's British business - likely to be the first 3G operator to launch in Europe - was on schedule, with plans for a soft launch in the summer for executives and technology innovators. The company planned to sell the services in non-traditional distribution channels such as banks. The Italian 3G operation of Hutchison, which yesterday organised a roadshow in Hong Kong for its 3.2 billion euro (about HK$21.65 billion) loan, would be launched one month after those in Britain. Mr Fok said the financing would be completed in the first half of the year. A loan for its Swedish 3G operation is on the agenda for this year. Concerns about whether Hutchison could launch its 3G services on time, coupled with scepticism over whether 3G returns could justify the investment, have kept Hutchison out of favour with many investors since last year. Its shares have fallen 27.25 per cent in the past year, to HK$72.25 yesterday. Mr Fok, who turned the company's first mobile business, Rabbit, into the successful Orange, and sold out at a perfect time, said he was spending more than half his time on the 3G business. 'We have made the right move to cash in 2G and reinvest in 3G. We have stuck to this strategy,' he said. 'Sentiment [towards 3G] may fluctuate, but we can't shift our strategy whenever market sentiment changes. This is a long-term business in which we have looked beyond 10 years.' The cost of the European 3G licences was no more than HK$50 billion - or about a third of the proceeds from selling Orange and VoiceStream in 1999-2000. In the past two years, Hutchison had spent less than half its promised investment building networks and hiring people. It had about 4,000 people working on its 3G business, more than half of them in Britain, Mr Fok said. Italy accounted for another 1,000 people and there were several hundred employees in Hong Kong. The 3G team was about the same size as its Hong Kong mobile operation, Hutchison Telecom. Mr Fok said Hutchison should be able to generate revenue from 3G but cautioned about being too optimistic. 'Realistically, all start-up businesses have to go through a process, but time will tell, and let's look at how we play it, using our skills,' he said. 'I have been at Hutchison for a long time and you know what we have done in the past. 'We don't want to give our shareholders false expectations . . . so we have tended to be conservative in giving out forward-looking statements - we want to give pleasant surprises, not disappointment to shareholders.'