Hutchison's 3G businesses grew their subscriber numbers by a total of 20 percent last year and the company said adoption of its 3 Skypephone "has been encouraging", when it released 2007 full year earnings yesterday.

Total 3G customers were 17.67 million as of March 26, 2008, Hutchison Whampoa said. The company is parent to 3 Group, which includes 3G service providers in the UK, Australia, Austria, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, as well as Hutchison Telecommunications International, which operates in Hong Kong, Macau and Israel.

During the fourth quarter last year, 3 Group launched one of the first VoIP mobile phones in the world in conjunction with Skype. The 3 Skypephone works much the same as normal Skype does on a PC, allowing people to make free voice calls and instant message other Skype users around the world. The service does, however, charge roaming fees if a user steps out of the 3 Group network.

Hutchison Whampoa did not say how many of the handsets had been sold so far.

Last year, 3 Group also launched USB broadband modems and cards for subscribers who want to connect to the internet from a laptop or other device wirelessly over a 3G network. Over 823,000 people have signed up for the service so far, the statement says.

3 Group narrowed its loss before interest and tax last year to HK$17.9 billion (£1.2bn) last year, from HK$20 billion a year earlier.