With the roll-out of 3G services in sight, it is up to the firm to deliver on the hype The arrival of Hutchison's third-generation (3G) handsets from NEC means it can move past that excuse for delays and missed targets for 3's service launch. Now the more pressing question is, are these handsets good enough to get paying customers? After all, 2.5 million will be arriving in March. What will be more difficult for Hutchison to put behind it is the cacophony of negative publicity the launch of 3 has created to date. If damning reports by the BBC Watchdog complaints programme in Britain or disgruntled staff in Australia were not enough, last week 3's chief operating officer in Britain dubbed its video downloads as boring. Teething problems can be expected, but the current mismatch of reality and expectations remains a huge stumbling block. The launch of 3 in Hong Kong looks perhaps even more challenging than that of its start-up operations in Europe. While small change in comparison to the Euro20 billion (HK$193.2 billion) investment Hutchison has riding on Europe, both symbolically and strategically, it remains crucial. Here, Hutchison has to juggle upgrading existing customers, manage two brands and keep a firm eye on costs. Any repeat of the glitches that occurred overseas will be magnified in the eyes of local media and analysts. With the decision makers in Beijing also looking on, Hutchison will be anxious to press its credentials as a global 3G player as the mainland further opens its telecom market. This week, Hutchison moved closer to a Hong Kong launch, saying it would disclose its pre-launch tariff plans next month. The NEC c616 handsets certainly look the part. But it is a more mundane detail that could give new users a reality check. Two hours of talk time means these 3G phones remain hungry on the battery. For many, the enjoyment of watching football will be shortlived if a call is missed. But surely 660,000 customers in Europe must be on to something. While not the promised three million by Christmas, it's still a significant number. Making a leap to Hong Kong is problematic, however. Here, 3 aims to target the high usage customer willing to spend $263 to $533 a month on new video features plus a hefty $4,380 on a subsidy-free NEC c616 handset. In Europe, gizmo-led advertising was dropped for a focus on cheap voice. The latest #15 (HK$206.26) monthly plan for 3 includes the same NEC handset at #79.99. It comes free on the #25 plan. In Italy, which accounts for half of all 3 customers, the company sells pre-paid video phone packages for Euro99. Will Hong Kong customers be prepared to open their wallets for a handset that is effectively a giveaway in Europe? The legacy of Hutchison's price leadership strategy in Hong Kong is that its 1.8 million Orange users have become accustomed to a staple of cheap minutes and generous handset discounts. The instinctive reaction of savvy consumers is to wait and see if handset prices fall later. If not, many will listen to the message from Hutchison's 2G rivals - wait a little longer for a 3G handset that is worth the investment. That seems to be the message from its once bosom partner, NTT DoCoMo in Japan, whose launch of a WCDMA network more than two years ago has garnered only 1.7 million subscribers. New, lighter handsets, and better batteries, mean it is confidently expecting five million new users next year. Hutchison has perhaps already accepted this reality. The other revealing comment from 3's managing director in Britain was that next autumn 3 would be a serious competitor. But it will be next Christmas, not this one, before we see 3G services really catch on.