Hutchison boss: "3 is not for sale, but..."

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 16 November 2006

Canning Fok has stumped up the money for Hutchison 3G's launch of the new Web-based, Skype-providing mobile eBay service, X-Series - a grandiose launch today in London, with real cash spent filling the tent with journalists and analysts. And so naturally, the first question he was asked: "Is 3 for sale?"

He said no. "Of course the answer is no. But... Arun Sarin has a lot of money."

His response was provoked by yesterday's announcement by Vodafone boss Arun Sarin that he "would buy 3 Italy and UK" if they were for sale. And that was probably provoked by the NewsWireless Sniffer report two weeks ago, that Hutchison Whampoa had run out of patience, if not quite out of money.

The X-Series launch was a showcase for Sony Ericsson and Nokia, both of whom unveiled new mobile phones that would handle the new user interfaces required.

For example Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom told NewsWireless after the presentation that it was absolutely true that Skype was now free over the air from the new phones - but not if you were calling another phone.

"Skype Out and Skype In are things the current client doesn't support, and we hope to get them working in 2007 2008 timeframe," said Zennstrom. "But the current client, we say will 'delight' existing users, because it is so simple to use on a mobile phone. You'll not only be able to call any Skype users around the world - on PC or on X-Series - but you'll even have the little green logo to show if they're awake."

The watching analysts, however, were not overwhelmed by the presentation, with one financial worker texting his office during the show, describing the new X-Series products as "just another flat rate broadband offering with 'fair use' limitations - so not much more than a portal from the supporting cast."

The idea that you can watch your home TV "anywhere" now that Sling Media is supporting the X-Series is also not quite what it seems, since Hutchison has not found a magic wand to increase its 3G coverage from what it was last week - which is to say, most "3" users will still find themselves making and receiving calls over GPRS with O2 (now Telefonica, of course) in the UK. Unlimited broadband over GPRS is not on offer, and even if it were, it wouldn't be much good for watching TV.

However, the IM revolution is real, and will work even over GPRS (at least, they think it will) when the service rolls out in December.

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