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Hutch Makes 3G Phones

10:30 AM -- Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0013; Pink Sheets: HUWHY), which owns the 3 Group of 3G operators, has created a new subsidiary called INQ that will make low-cost 3G devices, which will make access to social networking applications like Facebook as easy as a click.

3 broke new ground in 3G devices and mobile Internet services around this time last year with the introduction of the 3 Skypephone, which had a special button that launched the Skype application on the handset. (See 3 Launches Skypephone.)

Now, the conglomerate wants to make more 3G devices that are inexpensive (i.e., less than $200, reportedly) and optimized for social networking apps.

The first phone, dubbed the INQ1, will be available before the end of the year in time for the holiday season in Australia, Hong Kong, and the U.K., from 3. The phone will be available in other 3 markets in the first half of next year, and INQ plans to offer the phone to other 3G operators in the U.S. and elsewhere later in 2009.

The new Hutchison subsidiary worked with Facebook to develop the INQ1 device. Users will be able to see updates on the phone's home page when friends post photos on their Facebook profiles, for example.

Facebook has already developed an application for other smartphones, for example BlackBerry 's BlackBerry, but the integration with the new INQ1 phone supposedly goes a bit further. (See Facebook (Geezer Edition) and CTIA: Creating the Next YouTube.)

INQ is understood to be working on four other devices to be released next year for 3 and other operators, which reportedly use proprietary software and chips from Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM).

In terms of Hutchison's handset success so far, we don't know how many Skypephone devices 3 has sold, or how much more data traffic and service revenues those devices generated for 3, nor even whether Skype -- as originally planned -- managed to sell any of these handsets to operators other than 3. But that's what we'll be asking.

Still, a low-cost 3G phone that makes social networking apps easier to use is certainly interesting.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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