Hutchison Whampoa plans to kick off its third generation (3G) mobile service - known simply as '3' - in Italy next week and says handsets are ready for delivery to customers who have already signed up for the service. That would appear to put the Italian launch ahead of Britain. Hutchison has unveiled two Italian tariff plans with thousands of dealers while it keeps the market guessing as to what it might charge British users. Hutchison will begin to distribute the 3G phones to preregistered Italian users beginning on Monday. Handsets are expected to be available at retailers at the end of this month. '[Hutchison] can confirm that handsets will be given out to trendsetters in Italy,' said spokeswoman Laura Cheung, who said the company had now signed up more than 100,000 subscribers. Chairman Li Ka-shing was in Italy late last week to set things in motion and presented a mobile SIM card to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They met in Rome, along with group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning and Mr Li's elder son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi. Hutchison said investments in 3G services would represent 40 per cent of its foreign direct investment in Italy between 2001 and 2005. The company has committed the equivalent of US$5.4 billion to Italy and was the largest foreign investor there, according to a report by an Italian newspaper. The new Italian mobile entrant would offer 40 hours of voice and data services bundled together - which included video-messages, multi-media messaging, video-news and video-goals - for 85 euros a month. Last week, Hutchison said it had signed an agreement with Ericsson to provide a video gateway between personal computers and its 3G mobile videophones in Italy, Britain and Hong Kong.