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Three UK Confirm December 2013 Launch and Prices for 4G Mobile

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 (7:58 am) - Score 1,621

Three UK has today moved to steal some of O2 and Vodafone’s thunder by announcing that its new 800MHz and possibly 1800MHz based superfast 4G (LTE) Mobile Broadband network will officially launch during December 2013 in the cities of London, Birmingham and Manchester (England).

The operator paid £225 million for a small slice of the related 800MHz radio spectrum band in February 2013 (here), which allowed it to grab only 2 x 5MHz of paired spectrum. On top of that it should also gain access to 2 x 15MHz of 1800MHz in September 2013 from EE, which was effectively forced to sell it off in order to satisfy competition concerns (here).

At the time Three UK suggested that the new slice of 1800MHz would help it to “more than double the capacity available to customers on our network“ and that should compensate for the somewhat small slice of 800MHz, although their long-term deployment plan for 1800MHz is still unclear.

Three UK also has a network sharing agreement (Mobile-Broadband Network Limited) with EE but this is only for 2G and 3G services, not 4G. As a result the operator will be rolling out its 4G network without any help from rivals and it expects to expand the service into 50 cities around the United Kingdom during 2014; reaching 98% of the population by the end of 2015.

This timescale roughly mirrors what O2 and Vodafone plan to achieve, while EE’s head-start means that it should achieve similar coverage by the end of 2014 instead of 2015. But it should go without saying that what mobile operators promise and the reality of what they actually achieve, especially from an end-users perspective, are usually two very different things.

What will you get for your money?

In terms of price, Three UK clearly isn’t following the pack and has chosen a different approach. Instead of offering lots of extra content gimmicks, such as Sky Sports or free Film streaming / cinema tickets, Three UK are approaching 4G from the perspective of a network upgrade that will be delivered “at no extra cost” (remember they’re already one of the cheapest). Customers whom already own a 4G-capable Smartphone (800MHz), which equates to about 1.5 million of their users, will simply notice the new connection without having to pay anything extra.

In other words, if you currently have one of their “all-you-can-eat data” plans, which start at just £12.90 per month, then expect to receive a free speed boost. Similarly Three UK currently offers a dedicated Mobile Broadband service (USB Modem) on a 24 month contract with 15GB of monthly data usage from just £15.99 and that would be very impressive with 4G (EE only offers 3GB for the same money).

The move should add a little competition into a market that has so far been defined by its high prices and content gimmicks. The real question now is whether or not Three UK’s offer will end up being enough to attract customers away from rival operators with their special content and greater coverage. The latter will at least balance out over time.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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