Three UK has announced plans to offer 4G LTE access to its customers without increasing the price of its tariffs. This means that any Three customers with compatible smartphones and tablets could eventually have access to 4G for the same price as their existing 3G contracts provide.
Despite the announcement, Three do not currently own the rights to any 4G spectrum, therefore any proposed price plans are purely theoretical, pending the results of the current 4G spectrum auctions.
Other carriers, such as EE, Vodafone and O2, have not yet revealed any pricing details or changes in response to Three’s announcement. 4G internet access is currently only available through network provider EE, which took advantage of its existing mobile spectrum, rolling out 4G LTE services in a handful of major UK cities ahead of its future competitors.
As we speak, mobile telecoms executives are bidding on mobile radio spectrum for 4G allocation. The auctions are held in secret and all the major carriers are believed to be bidding on the newly available 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. Three UK are one of several mobile providers currently bidding on the 4G spectrum licences, alongside Vodafone, O2 and also EE, which is looking to further expand on its current 4G capabilities. The spectrum auctions are being overseen by independent regulator Ofcom.
EE’s 4G price plans are considerably more expensive than its 3G alternatives, despite the carrier reducing its prices and increasing data allowances, ahead of planned 4G rollouts from Three, O2 and Vodafone later this year.
Three’s current sim-only 3G price plans start at £6.90 per month for 500MB of data on a 12 month contract, increasing up to £25 per month for a sim-only ‘One Plan’, which offers customers unlimited data. EE’s current offerings are in stark contrast, with prices starting at £21 per month for a 12 month sim-only contract with 500MB of data, increasing to £46 per month for 20GB of data on a 24 month sim-only contract.
If Three keep their 3G plans in their current state and provide 4G access at the same rates, then this could have a significant impact on the market. It would force carriers to respond with more competitive pricing, which would be great news for customers across the board.
Three UK chief executive Dave Dyson had the following to say about the 4G pricing announcement: “As we add the next wave of technology to our Ultrafast network, we’ve listened to our customers and thought long and hard about the right way to do it. We don’t want to limit Ultrafast services to a select few based on a premium price and we’ve decided our customers will get this service as standard”.
Ofcom, the independent regulator overseeing the mobile spectrum distribution, does intend to repurpose existing 2G/3G spectrum licences for 4G allocation. If these plans make it to fruition, then existing 2G and 3G spectrum will be made available alongside any newly purchased 4G licences obtained from the current spectrum auctions.
If Three can hold true to its promise and match its current 3G price plans, other UK carriers will have no choice but to follow suit and offer comparable 4G pricing, if they intend to capitalise on the next generation of mobile broadband access. EE has already accomplished its initial goal of snapping up the early adopters of 4G, it’s now up to them and the remaining major UK carriers to decide how aggressively to compete with Three in the coming months.
I had previously recommended Three’s DC-HSDPA network as a viable alternative to 4G at a fraction of the price. This recent announcement further strengthens my previous comments, as 4G access would further enhance Three’s ‘ultrafast’ network at no extra cost. Provided Three delivers on its promise, pending the current 4G spectrum auctions of course.