WELLINGTON - Vodafone New Zealand has trebled its customer base in its first 14 months of operation.

The mobile phone company said yesterday it had 397,000 customers at the end of last month.

"This represents growth of 35 per cent in the last quarter and an overall increase of more than 267,000 customers since Vodafone arrived in New Zealand in November 1998," the company said.

The international Vodafone Airtouch group entered the New Zealand market after buying BellSouth NZ for $750 million.

Vodafone took partial credit for the growth of the domestic mobile market.

Managing director John Rohan said the number of New Zealanders with cellphones had increased from 17 per cent when Vodafone arrived to more than 30 per cent today.

Vodafone and Telecom are in fierce competition for the lucrative mobile market.

Telecom, which separated out its mobile unit last month, revealed a 50.7 per cent rise in September year-on-year cellular connections to 760,000 in its latest financial results.