CEO of 3 UK Robert Finnegan (pictured) repeated calls for changes in the structure of the UK market during the release of its Q1 trading statement, as speculation continues to mount on the status of ongoing merger talks with Vodafone’s local unit.

Finnegan noted the operator’s returns continued to be below the cost of capital, adding “for the industry to continue investing in the UK’s digital infrastructure, market structural change is needed”.

His assessment came as Reuters reported comments made by Frank John Sixt, group financial director of 3 parent CK Hutchison Holdings, who voiced optimism a deal with Vodafone will be made despite being “extremely difficult” to get over the line.

Talks between the businesses have been ongoing since at least October 2022, when the pair confirmed discussions were underway. Media have since regularly speculated a deal is close.

Although continuing a call for changes in the market, Finnegan pointed to progress at his business including growth in its customer base, revenue and margin in Q1 alongside the completion of a major IT system project.

Its topline trading update was released as part of those for CK Hutchison Group Telecom Holdings, which runs the 3-branded operations in Europe.

Across the telecoms group, revenue was flat year-on-year at €2.4 billion, though it noted its margin had improved by 2 per cent in that period. Net profit figures were not provided in the update.

Outside of its UK operation, it noted continued difficulties in Italy, which generates the highest revenue in the group.

The company said its WindTre unit’s active user base fell on “continuous intense competition” while revenue in the country dropped 4 per cent.