U.K.’s Smallest Carrier, Three, Says It Won’t Charge More For 4G Than 3G

The U.K.’s smallest mobile network operator, Three, has committed to offering 4G/LTE technology at the same price as 3G — i.e. with no upgrade fee — when it’s able to add 4G to its network later this year. Three has not specified when that will happen but it’s not likely to be before September, which is when the 4G-suitable 1800MHz spectrum it is acquiring from EE will be freed up by its rival. (EE was required to divest a portion of its spectrum by the U.K. telecoms watchdog as a condition of the merger between Orange and T-Mobile, which make up the EE joint venture.)

Three says only that it will incorporate 1800Mhz spectrum to its network to ramp up coverage and capacity “in the second half of this year”. The carrier is also bidding for spectrum in Ofcom’s auction for the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands — taking place at the moment — so it’s possible its 4G plans could change, based on any spectrum it is able to win through the auction.

Three’s premium-less price commitment contrasts with EE, which was able to launch the U.K.’s first 4G network in its 1800MHZ spectrum last October but asks customers wanting 4G to upgrade to a new price-plan. Prices for its 4GEE network start at £36 per month (currently discounted to £31 until the end of March), with just 500MB of data included. Three’s premium-less commitment means existing customers on its network will get 4G included in their tariff without having to pay extra (and with the prospect of signing up for an unlimited data package). However, the wording of Three’s commitment does not preclude the company increasing prices across the board.

In addition to keeping 3G to 4G pricing flat, Three is not making a distinction between LTE and top-end 3G technology DC-HSPA — but rather says both will form part of what it’s calling its ‘Ultrafast’ network. Of course, combining the two technologies allows Three to market an ‘Ultrafast’ network now, as it waits to gain the spectrum to enable it to roll out 4G proper. Three’s DC-HSPA rollout covers 55 per cent of the UK population now, and will reach 80 per cent by the end of March, it said.

Despite dubbing its next gen network ‘Ultrafast’ Three is not focusing on headline speeds, but instead talks up data capacity — claiming its network carries more than 40 per cent of the U.K.’s data traffic.

Three’s full release follows below.

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.