Three bucks trend with all-you-can-eat data for smartphone users, but for how long?

Mobile carrier Three UK, owned by Hutchison Whampoa, has beefed up its ‘One Plan’ pay-monthly tariff to include an all-you-can-eat data allowance. This is quite interesting on several fronts.

Firstly, what we’re talking about here isn’t so-called ‘Unlimited’ data that in actual fact has a fair usage policy that translates into something like 1GB or less (Three stopped employing that trick a while ago). This really does appear to be all-you-can-eat.

Secondly, it flies in the face of a wider industry trend whereby the incumbent players across Europe are starting to make very loud noises regarding the need to cap mobile data to protect quality of service or begin charging per-usage.

And in a move that’s destined to light up the net neutrality debate – not that net neutrality has ever really existed on the mobile carriers’ networks – the likes of Orange have begun talking up the need to actually charge “content” providers, such as Facebook or Google – for carrying their users’ traffic. Yes, that old chestnut.

So, all-you-can-eat data is potentially a big deal.

That said, it’s clearly in Three’s interests as the least biggest in terms of mobile phone subscriber numbers of the major networks (it leads the way in mobile broadband) to make a grab for new smartphone users. And the headline of truly unlimited data will help. But what happens if this actually works, leading to a network congestion problem O2 style (in London at least) as seen when the iPhone first arrived. Will Three be then forced to either hike prices (it’s contractually allowed to do so) or drop the all-you-can-eat data offer all together.

Related to this is a fact highlighted in today’s press release. Data usage grows over time, and this is especially true for first-time smartphone users, which every network, and not least Three, is now targeting.