Mobile phone company Stet Hellas seems destined to remain in the shadow of market leaders Panafon-Vodafone and CosmOTE. Battling to catch up with its rivals, the telecom operator has found itself lagging behind more and more. This was apparent even after Stet Hellas announced a 25.9-percent increase in customer numbers in the year to September. Analysts said that with the domestic contract subscriber market nearing saturation, Stet Hellas could find itself permanently playing bridesmaid to the market leaders. Stet Hellas said the number of customers up to September amounted to 1,989,985, a jump of 25.9 percent. The company gained 102,545 new additions at the end of the third quarter, of which 82,646 were prepaid subscribers and 19,899 contract. The prepaid segment constituted 70.4 percent of total customer volume or 1.4 million users. Contract subscribers totaled 588,589. Noting that Stet Hellas’s figures were better than expected, Intersec telecoms analyst Constantinos Karitsos said the results also confirmed a trend already evident in the last few months. The figures showed that the contract segment is close to saturation, which will spur competition to shift to the prepaid sector. This goes against the European trend where competition is greater in the contract market, he argued. But mobile phone companies won’t find it easy to stake out a presence in the prepaid segment. It’s not so easy competing in this sector. It very much depends on luck and the retail chain offering phone accessories and prepaid cards, Karitsos said. Hopes that Stet Hellas would find greater support from parent company Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) could be just that, hopes and nothing more. TIM, via its wholly owned subsidiary Stet Mobile Holding, lifted its 58-percent stake to 62.8 percent during Stet Hellas’s recent rights offering. The increased holding came after other shareholders did not participate in the equity issue, with some even diluting their stakes. NYNEX Network Systems International, an indirect subsidiary of US telecommunications group Verizon Communications, and companies controlled by insurance magnate Dimitris Kontominas trimmed their holdings to 17.45 percent and 5.051 percent respectively. Telecom Italia’s willingness [to boost Stet Hellas’ operations], if it is that, came too late, Karitsos said. Which means that the mobile company for sure will remain in third place, even in new subscriber growth, he added.