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U.K.'s first 3G phones due next week

Hutchison 3G Networks next week will become the first operator to introduce a test version of its third-generation wireless network on the U.K. mainland, giving 500 mobile users their first experience of 3G. The company will initially offer the service to its business partners and suppliers, who will access and test the network using handsets from NEC. Matt Peacock, external relations for Hutchinson 3G Networks described the move as a phased roll-out, not a launch. No decision on an official launch will be made until the company is confident about the reliability of the service, he said.

A further 100,000 handsets will be available before the end of the year as Hutchison continues to simultaneously test its U.K. and Italian networks. Handsets could go on sale as early as the end of this year, Peacock said, when he hopes the network will cover 50 per cent of the U.K. population.'s Jon Bernstein reported from London.