Hutchison Whampoa was planning to order up to 12 million third-generation (3G) mobile phones in anticipation of a surge in subscriber numbers next year, according to equipment vendors. The company had ordered an estimated eight million 3G handsets from LG Electronics, NEC and Motorola for this year, for which it has a subscriber target of six million users. Analysts say the planned new orders could mean Hutchison is targeting eight million to 10 million new 3G users next year, almost double this year's target. Company chairman Li Ka-shing has said that it is company policy to keep about two million 3G phones in stock. Hutchison will be eager to avoid a repeat of its handset debacles late last year and early this year, when poor unit quality and shipment delays slowed 3G subscriber rates. The group's global 3G operations posted a HK$12.24 billion loss for the first half of this year, mostly due to handset subsidies. Performance began improving in May, when South Korean phone maker LG Electronics began shipping its U8110 handsets. Hutchison boosted global 3G subscriptions by an average of 22,500 users per day to 3.2 million last month, from about 1.72 million in May. The ports-to-telecommunications conglomerate is hoping to use its leverage as a bulk buyer to drive down handset costs. It is reportedly demanding handsets at US$300 each, against the $500 to $600 that it is paying now. It could well be a buyer's market. LG, which has sold Hutchison three million phones this year for more than US$1 billion, is eager to retain the business. NEC, Motorola and other vendors - most of which have expanded their 3G handset production capacity over the past year - are also hoping to gain more Hutchison orders. The intensive talks with vendors come as rival carriers Vodafone Group, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile and Orange launch aggressive promotions for their 3G services in Europe, Hutchison's largest market. Securing reliable handset supplies is considered critical for Hutchison, which is competing against its rivals on their own turf. Analysts say that if Hutchison can sustain a subscriber rate of 22,500 3G users a day, the eight million new users target for next year is plausible. Success would bring its global 3G subscriber base to about 15 million users.