Hutch sets up firm to design handsets for 3

Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa looks like it’s about to try its luck in the handset design space.

A new subsidiary called INQ Mobile has recently set up shop, and while the unit does not appear to have yet launched, its mission statement is quite clear – to design multimedia focused phones for use on Hutchison’s 3G networks.

INQ claims to be a band of designers and creatives which are “frustrated by the limits of mobile phones”. From the little info available on the company’s website, INQ Mobile will focus on the mobilisation of social networking tools, messaging, video sharing, shopping and VoIP.

Without any other information from Hutch, the rest is just speculation. It seems likely that the company will get the handsets built by an OEM, probably in Taiwan, and some flavours of Linux, including Android, may well be on the menu for an operating platform.

As for services, Hutch’s 3 Group already has agreements with Skype, Microsoft, Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Sling Media, giving it access to the cream of the web crowd.

Globally, Hutchison Whampoa has 3G operations in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Macau, Sweden and the UK. The carrier markets its services under the global brand 3 with the exception of its Israeli operation, which-confusingly-is branded Orange and owned by Hutchison Telecom International.

The firm also has the right to operate 3G services in Norway, having paid $8.23m in 2003 for a 12-year licence. It has yet to start up operations, though the carrier is obliged to provide 30 per cent population coverage by September 2009.

For 3 UK, data finally over took voice in terms of volume in December 2007 and it has kept on climbing. The carrier says it is now eight to ten times the volume of the capacity used by voice. And in the UK 3 is planning for a 60-fold increase in backhaul this year. The growth is being driven primarily by USB dongles. In order to cope with the growth and improve in-building coverage the carrier has entered into a network sharing agreement with T-Mobile. Boosting the number of cell sites from 7,500 to over 13,000 at no extra cost.

The overall drive for the business these days is the continued mobilisation of the internet and Hutch’s foray into the handset space seems to fit with this strategy.

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