Three To Offer 4G on Existing Plans; Unlimited Data From £12.90/month

February 4th, 2013

Three have announced that 4G will be available on all of their existing price plans. They offer unlimited data from £12.90/month.

ThreeIn what could be the most exciting news for UK mobile users in many years, Three has announced that 4G mobile technology will be available to all customers at no extra charge. Customers on all “existing and new price plans” will be covered by the announcement. This makes it possible for consumers to sign up for a £12.90/month SIM Only deal that comes with unlimited downloads included. Once 4G launches later this year, customers can access 4G at no extra charge on their plan.

For consumers who wanted a new 4G-ready smartphone, the iPhone 5 costs £34/month with an upfront charge of £99. This comes with 500 minutes, 5000 texts and unlimited data: and once again there’s the possibility of using 4G network as soon as it launches. EE’s 4G service costs £2/month more than Three and comes with a measly download allowance of just 500MB: so little that you could use it all up in under 5 minutes.

The availability of 4G on Three’s existing price plans, combined with their unlimited data offering, makes it an incredibly attractive offering for anyone who wants to upgrade to 4G. Whilst Three offers unlimited internet as standard, EE customers need to upgrade to new 4G price plans and the largest download allowance available is 20GB. This costs £61/month – more than four times the cost of unlimited data on Three (£12.90/month). For customers choosing Three over EE, this represents a saving of £577 per year.

4G LogoWhat are the benefits of 4G mobile technology?

4G refers to the next generation of mobile networks. Compared to existing 3G technologies, the benefits of 4G include greater network capacity, faster download speeds and lower latencies when accessing online content. It means more reliable mobile internet access and an improved day-to-day experience when using your smartphone.

The following table shows the download speeds that you would expect on 4G, compared to older mobile networks that run on 2G and 3G technologies:

Generation Technology Maximum Download Speed Typical Download Speed
2G GPRS 0.1Mbit/s <0.1Mbit/s
EDGE 0.3Mbit/s 0.1Mbit/s
3G 3G (Basic) 0.3Mbit/s 0.1Mbit/s
HSPA 7.2Mbit/s 1.5Mbit/s
HSPA+ 21Mbit/s 4Mbit/s
DC-HSPA+ (“Ultrafast”)
(80% of UK by end of March)
42Mbit/s 8Mbit/s
4G LTE (“Ultrafast”)
(Second Half of 2013)
100Mbit/s 15Mbit/s

“Ultrafast” is Three’s marketing term for their 3G DC-HSPA+ service and their upcoming 4G LTE service. Their 42Mbit/s DC-HSPA+ service is currently available to 55% of the UK population, with 80% of people set to have it by the end of March. 4G LTE should launch in the second half of this year.

Mobile Mast

4G is the next-generation of mobile technology.

To access 4G mobile networks, you’ll need a new handset that is 4G-ready. Your handset will continue to use existing 3G networks until the 4G service launches in your area.

Will all Three customers have access to 4G?

Yes. According to Three, 4G will be available “across all existing and new price plans without customers needing to pay a premium fee to ‘upgrade’”.

To make use of 4G, you’ll need to have a 4G-capable handset. However, the good news is that you can keep your existing price plan and you won’t need to pay more for accessing a 4G network.

4G-capable devices that are currently available on Three include the Apple iPhone 5, the Nokia Lumia 920 and the Sony Xperia Z. 4G-compatible versions of the BlackBerry Z10, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II are set to be launched in the next month.

How much does it cost?

If you were to sign up for an iPhone 5 on Three today, you’d have several tariff options:

Tariff Name Minutes Texts Internet Upfront Cost Monthly Cost Total Cost of Ownership
Ultimate Internet 500 500 5,000 Unlimited £99 £34/month £915
The One Plan 2,000
& 5,000 on-net
5,000 Unlimited £99 £36/month £963
The One Plan 2,000
& 5,000 on-net
5,000 Unlimited £49 £39/month £985
The One Plan 2,000
& 5,000 on-net
5,000 Unlimited Free £44/month £1,056

All of these options include unlimited data: you’d be using DC-HSPA+ until the 4G LTE service launches in your area.

The total cost of ownership is the total amount that you’d pay over 24 months. It includes the upfront payment for the phone and 24 subsequent monthly payments. Tethering is included on The One Plan so you can use it for a mobile broadband service.

How do this compare to EE’s 4G price plans?

The iPhone 5 is available on the following 4G tariffs at EE:

Tariff Name Minutes Texts Internet Upfront Cost Monthly Cost Total Cost of Ownership
500MB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 500MB £290 £31/month £1,034
500MB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 500MB £100 £36/month £964
1GB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 1GB £100 £41/month £1,084
3GB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 3GB £50 £46/month £1,154
5GB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 5GB £30 £51/month £1,254
8GB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 8GB £20 £56/month £1,364
20GB Plan Unlimited Unlimited 20GB £20 £61/month £1,484

These tariffs are available on a range of data allowances from 500MB to 20GB. Providing it’s available in your area, you’d be able to use 4G LTE from day one. If EE doesn’t offer 4G in your area, you’ll fall back onto their 3G service.

The total cost of ownership is the total amount that you’d pay over 24 months. It includes the upfront payment for the phone and the 24 subsequent monthly payments.

Three charges a total of £915 over 24 months for unlimited data whereas EE charges £964 for just 500MB per month. Customers can save £49 by choosing Three’s unlimited data offering.

The closest comparable tariff for unlimited on EE is their 20GB plan. This costs £61/month plus an upfront cost of £20. Over 24 months, it comes to a total of £1,484. This is £569 more expensive than Three’s offering which has unlimited data.

How do SIM Only prices compare on Three & EE?

SIM card

SIM only deals are ideal if you want to keep your existing smartphone.

SIM only tariffs are designed for people who already have a smartphone. By providing your own phone, you can take advantage of lower monthly costs on your phone contract. Both Three and EE offer a range of SIM Only plans.

The price of their SIM only tariffs compare as follows:

Monthly Data Allowance Three EE
500MB From £6.90/month £21/month
1GB From £12.90/month £26/month
3GB £31/month
5GB £36/month
8GB £41/month
20GB £61/month
Unlimited From £12.90/month

Considering the entry-level tariffs over 24 months (500MB download allowance), Three’s offering comes in £169 cheaper than EE’s offering. At the high-end (unlimited/20GB download allowance), Three’s offering is £577 cheaper than EE’s offering over the first year.

To take advantage of EE’s 4G service and Three’s upcoming 4G service, you’ll need a 4G-capable phone. You may need to unlock your phone and you’ll need to choose the right type of SIM card when placing your order.

Will Three’s 4G service work with my iPhone 5?

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 is compatible with Three’s 4G service.

Yes. According to Three, the iPhone 5 will be compatible with their upcoming 4G service.

If you purchased an iPhone from another network, consider unlocking it and using one of Three’s SIM Only tariffs. £12.90/month will give you 200 minutes, 5000 texts and all-you-can-eat data with the possibility of using 4G when it becomes available later this year. For those who are less concerned about an unlimited data allowance, you could opt for 600 minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB internet instead.

If you’re waiting for 4G on O2 or Vodafone, it’s unlikely to work on the iPhone 5. This is because the iPhone 5 contains support for 4G at three frequencies only: 850MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz. Three and EE are offering 4G services at 1800MHz but O2 and Vodafone do not own any spectrum in this range. Instead, O2 and Vodafone are likely to launch their 4G services at 800MHz and 2600MHz. This will mean buying a new handset to use 4G.

When will 4G launch on Three?

According to Three, they will roll out 4G on their network in the second half of this year. As of yet, we don’t have any details about when it will be available in different regions.

In the mean time, Three has been rolling out a 42Mbit/s DC-HSPA+ service. This is currently available to 55% of the UK population, increasing to 80% by the end of March. DC-HSPA+ is a 3G-based technology that offers approximately half the download speeds of 4G LTE.

I’m switching to Three. Can I keep my existing phone number?

Yes. You can transfer your existing phone number to Three. Once you’ve ordered your new phone, ask your existing mobile network for a PAC Code. This is a nine-digit authorisation code that allows you to transfer your mobile phone number between networks. Once your new phone or SIM card has arrived, call Three’s customer services team on 333 and provide them with your PAC Code. It can take up to 24 hours to move your number between networks.

For more information, see our guide to PAC Codes and transferring your mobile number between networks.

Why are we so excited about this news?

4G Fireworks or a damp squib?

The launch of 4G on EE was a damp squib, but brighter times are ahead.

We can finally get excited about 4G in the UK, now that we know we won’t be paying through the roof for it. Until recently, all of the evidence pointed towards sharp price rises following the launch of 4G. This has been the general pattern around the world and EE, the UK’s first 4G mobile network, did just this.

When EE announced their 4G price plans, many industry watchers complained of unsuitably small download allowances and sky-high prices. At £36/month, EE’s entry-level 4G tariff came with a 500MB download allowance. With 4G offering average download speeds of 15Mbit/s, it would have been possible to use up your entire monthly download allowance in less than 5 minutes. A 500MB download allowance simply isn’t enough for making internet-based phone calls, listening to online radio or streaming high definition video – these are exactly the things that people want 4G for. At the £36/month price point, many 3G networks were offering unlimited data and no download limits.

Even on their higher-end tariffs, EE also offered a poor deal for many consumers. Consumers on EE would need to pay £61/month for 20GB of internet. When 3G networks are offering unlimited data for £12.90/month, this was hard for consumers to swallow.

The end result was that customers on an entry-level EE 4G tariff were totally unable to take advantage of the benefits of 4G. Meanwhile, customers on high-end tariffs were paying 4 times more than they were paying on 3G. The end result is that EE’s 4G service flopped and just 4.5% of consumers chose it in the first fortnight of availability. Rather than being all fireworks, the launch of EE was a damp squib.

Silicon Roundabout

The UK is a hotbed of mobile innovation.

The reason why I’m excited about Three’s announcement today is because it tells us that 4G will be affordable. Whether you’re a customer of Three or not, their announcement means that other major network operators will be reluctant to raise their prices following the introduction of 4G. O2 and Vodafone would be shooting themselves in the foot to raise prices like EE have. Rather than seeing prices rising substantially, the price of mobile should probably stay around the same level as they are today.

This is important if we’re to see the next stage of the mobile revolution in the UK. The UK has done incredibly well in ensuring that mobile technology is affordable and accessible to the masses. This has made it a hotbed for innovation in the mobile industry. We’re often the first to get new devices and we’ve got a thriving ecosystem of high-tech businesses in the East End of London. For the UK to remain competitive in the mobile industry, we need 4G and we need it to be affordable and accessible. Thus, the announcement that 4G will be available at today’s 3G prices is incredibly significant. For businesses that want to pioneer new ways of working on-the-go or for start-up businesses that want to launch new applications and services, the UK is sure to be a good place to go. Bring on the 4G revolution.

Full Press Release from Three

The full press release from Three follows:

Three to offer latest technology as standard with no price premium.

Three UK today made a public commitment to offer Ultrafast services as a standard feature on all its smartphone price plans. LTE, otherwise known as 4G, will be added to Three’s Ultrafast network later this year. Unlike some other UK mobile operators, it will be available across all existing and new price plans without customers needing to pay a premium fee to ‘upgrade’.

Three’s Ultrafast network, currently supported by DC-HSDPA technology, already covers 55% of the UK population with an initial focus on 50 towns and cities. It will reach 80% population coverage by the end of March and in the second half of this year it will incorporate 1800Mhz spectrum already acquired by Three to add even more coverage and capacity.

Any customer with an Ultrafast ready device can already enjoy great speeds on Three’s Ultrafast network without paying a premium or needing to swap SIM cards or price plans. LTE will be available as standard with all customers’ price plans when the roll-out begins later this year.

“Our customers choose Three because they love the internet and know they can get great speeds and great value on our award-winning network,” said Three UK chief executive Dave Dyson.

“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. With Three, it’s simple, great value and Ultrafast.  What you might expect from the network that was built for the internet.”

Customers with Ultrafast ready devices, including the Apple iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920, Sony Xperia Z, Apple iPad mini and Apple iPad with Retina display, can already enjoy Three’s Ultrafast network and will also be able to use the 1800Mhz spectrum when it is added later this year. Device choice is growing rapidly with new Ultrafast ready LTE versions of the Samsung Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II being launched on Three within the next month, and the BlackBerry Z10 launching mid-February.

Where can I find out more about Three’s Price Plans?

You can find out more about Three’s price plans on their website. For customers who already have a 4G-capable phone (e.g. iPhone 5), check out their SIM Only tariffs instead.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

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