UK operator 3 booked its first annual EBIT loss since 2010, with CEO Robert Finnegan blaming costs around 5G and a UK-wide connectivity drive for hampering profitability in 2023.

In what has become a familiar theme in its results statements, Finnegan slated the structure of the UK market, while describing the company’s financial performance as unsustainable.

He noted its figures came despite scaling back investment in 5G.

“This year we have successfully increased our customer base, delivered topline revenue growth and improved our margin”, he said, adding, “but the cost of rolling out and maintaining our 5G network, and our commitment to improving connectivity across the UK, has impacted our profitability”.

As has been the case with most of the operator’s business updates in recent months, Finnegan used the opportunity to again highlight claimed benefits of a proposed merger with Vodafone UK.

“With the current market structure of four MNOs, where there are two scaled players who have the ability to invest but do not face enough competitive pressure to do so, and two players (3 UK and Vodafone) who lack the scale to be credible challengers, the UK will continue to lag” on 5G, Finnegan said.

“The UK has the slowest data download speeds in the G7 and ranks 22nd out of 25 European countries in terms of 5G availability and download speeds”.

Revenue in 2023 rose 3 per cent year-on-year to £2.6 billion ($3.3 billion), with an EBIT loss of £117 million, which compares with a profit of £147 million in 2022.

3 UK is part of CK Hutchison Group Telecom Holdings, which also includes 3-branded operations elsewhere in Europe and the conglomerate’s telecoms businesses in Hong Kong and Macau.

Across the whole of the communications-focused business, the company reported revenue flat at €10.2 billion ($11.1 billion) and EBIT down 81 per cent to €300 million.

Net figures are combined with the whole of CK Hutchison’s business, which includes power, ports and infrastructure. Its bottom line was down 33 per cent to HKD23.2 billion ($3 billion).