Hutchison Whampoa is pushing hard for a first-quarter launch of its third generation (3G) mobile service in Britain and Italy, as executives turned up in London for what could be the last tests of the system. Chairman Li Ka-shing and his son, deputy chairman Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, conducted a trial test in major London districts this week, getting a first-hand experience of the biggest investment in the company's history. The senior Li's London visit - the second in the past three months - came amid British media reports that Hutchison might delay the commercial launch of the newly created brand name '3' to the second quarter this year. Hutchison executives insisted it was confident of starting in the first quarter. 'It is now our final stage of preparation,' Hutchison Whampoa group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning said in London. Launching 3G services for Hutchison, which spent US$16.7 billion in building and rolling out in nine countries, is the most important agenda for Mr Li's flagship this year. Mr Li made no secret at the annual dinner of Cheung Kong Holdings last week. 'Our senior management is confident that we can create a new era of digital information technologies for the world,' he said. In the past month, Hutchison has signed up more than 1,000 retail outlets in Britain through arrangements with Dixon, Carphones Warehouse and phone4u. It plans to have 300 of its own outlets through its Superdrug and Savers operations. In Italy, it has signed up 1,000 dealers and set a pricing plan of a minimum 85 euros (about HK$689) per month for 40 hours of voice and data usage. Hutchison 3G Italy, a 88 per cent subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, said it had signed up at least 60,000 customers who were now waiting for delivery of their handsets. In Britain, Hutchison has signed up more than 20,000 customers, with its initial pricing set at a monthly tariff of between GBP59.99 (about HK$749) and GBP99.99 for an undisclosed amount of usage. Hutchison said yesterday it had signed an agreement with Ericsson to provide video gateway between personal computers and its 3G mobile videophones in Britain, Italy and Hong Kong.