British mobile operator Hutchison 3 (3 UK) and Japanese wireless giant NTT Docomo are poised to offer the world's first 3G (third-generation) mobile videophone service between their home markets at the start of next month.

The service will allow customers of both carriers to make videophone calls between the UK and Japan at an initial speed of 64Kbps (kilobits per second).

Video calls from Japan to the UK, which will allow customers to both hear and see each other, will cost ¥72 (around 50p) per 10 seconds, according to the Tokyo-based carrier, which has been offering its Foma 3G service in Japan since October 01.

Calls from the UK to Japan will cost £1.50 per minute and £2 per minute for roaming calls made from other 3G networks. By comparison, a voice call made from a 3 UK mobile phone to Japan costs 80p per minute, according to 3 UK spokesman Edward Brewster.

Earlier this year, 3 UK became the first mobile operator in Europe to offer commercial 3G service but has been slow to penetrate the fiercely competitive UK mobile phone market, forcing it to discount some services to gain market share.

The company, which is 20 percent owned by Docomo, is a member of Hutchison Whampoa. The Hong Kong conglomerate owns wireless operators in several countries in the Asia Pacific region and Europe.

In addition to the Japanese service slated for next month, 3 UK customers can now make videophone calls to customers of the group's wireless subsidiaries in Austria, Italy, Sweden and Australia. Calls to these markets also cost £1.50 per minute.

By comparison, regular voice calls made with mobiles to these markets cost 20p according to Brewster.

"This service is immediately available, and we expect to extend it to other members in the group worldwide over the coming months," he said.