3 Mobile admits to 'historic error' in overstating subscribers since 2006


THERE MUST be quite a few red faces at mobile operator 3 and telecoms watchdog ComReg over last week’s news that 3 has been overstating its subscriber numbers here since 2006. ComReg must now recalculate its market statistics going back four years.

The error related to the number of “active” pre-paid subscribers 3 claimed to have on its books. In a statement, 3 said it was a “historic error in reporting” and it was “working closely” with ComReg to rectify the error. It is hugely embarrassing for a company that won the right to operate the National Broadband Scheme.

3 is owned by multinational Hutchison Whampoa. Its latest results show that 56 per cent of 3’s 554,000 registered subscribers here are considered active. This is about 310,000 – some way short of the figure supplied to ComReg.

This also reflects badly on the regulator. Some months ago, O2, the second-biggest mobile player here, contacted ComReg to question the subscriber numbers supplied by 3, based on its own customer experiences.

On June 14th, commissioner Mike Byrne wrote to O2’s chief financial officer Paul Whelan to say it had “concluded an analysis of the concerns” but had found nothing amiss.

“Our conclusion is that the divergence from industry norms is capable of being explained by several factors around the H3GI business model which differs from other operators in a number of significant areas.”

In other words, there is no case to answer. Earlier this month, 3 contacted the regulator to say it had overstated its figures, which makes you wonder about the quality of the “analysis” by ComReg on foot of O2’s complaint.

ComReg is now “investigating” the matter and 3 could find itself on the end of a stiff censure and fine. What a mess.