A mobile phone operator plans to teach its customers how to get more out of their handsets in an effort to boost revenue.

Orange said it had to get its users to think beyond voice calls and text messaging if it was to achieve its target of growing its data business over the coming year.

The group, which has three sites in Darlington, Peterlee and on North Tyneside, wants to use call centre employees and Orange shop staff to promote other uses for phones such as picture messaging.

The group insisted it will not be complacent, despite reporting substantial progress towards meeting its financial goals.

Jeremy Dale, vice-president of UK brand marketing, told The Northern Echo that the company was two years ahead of expectations set out when France Telecom took over a controlling stake.

The company's annual earnings rose 51 per cent to 5.1bn euros (£3.51bn), outstripping market expectations - a move reflected in Orange's share price which was up 10p, or two per cent, at 497.5p.

About 14 per cent of total earnings arose out of data services - a figure the group wants to see nearer 25 per cent.

Mr Dale stressed the importance mobile phones now held in daily life, saying: "The mobile phone we have, apart from our house keys, is one of the things you always take with you."

But he said operators had to get customers to embrace the full facilities on offer. "There are so many ways to make life easier and save time and we need to show customers how to use those services."

Orange is looking to break into third generation (3G) mobile phones next year, but is keen to address issues and difficulties in the technology before bringing it to market.

The trials and tribulations of 3G were brought into context on Monday when Hutchison 3G became the first to enter the market but suffered a modicum of ridicule because its handsets were not ready on time for the launch.

Mr Dale said: "We think 3G capability is going to be fantastic, but we are only going to bring it to the market when it is ready.

"We plan to launch that in 2004. What is going to dictate the speed at which we roll out that capability is going to be the customer."

Orange cannot afford to miss out on the move into the latest generation of equipment having paid what is likely to be a big sum for the privilege of holding a 3G licence.