Raising the stakes
This should shake things up somewhat. Just as the other UK mobile operators are restricting the amount of mobile data offered in their tariffs, Three has gone in the opposite direction and is offering ‘all-you-can-eat' data as part of its One Plan.
Mobile data is clearly becoming an increasingly important consideration when choosing a mobile operator, with smartphones set to be the dominant category and tablets on the rise. But so far the main phone operators have responded by lowering the amount they offer.
That's where lovely competition comes in. Three was set up from the start as a 3G network - hence the name - and has invested millions, possibly billions in its UK network. As a result it considers itself better positioned than any of its larger rivals to deliver bandwidth.
Three launched the One Plan back in the summer, offering more minutes and texts than its competitors, plus 1GB of data, for £25 per month. Now it has decided to scrap that limit on the data, and a chat with Three earlier confirmed that there isn't even a fair usage policy, so you can tether your PC to it every day if you want. The only time Three will intervene is if it suspects the connection is being used for illegal activities.
So this is what is now on offer: 2,000 any-network minutes, 5,000 Three-to-Three minutes, 5,000 texts and unlimited - all from £25 a month. To give you some idea of how this is likely to alarm its competitors, let's have a looks at Orange's Dolphin 25, which costs £25 per month in-store. It offers a mere 300 anytime minutes, unlimited texts, and 250MB monthly mobile data allowance.
Of course if you only need 250MB mobile data and five hours of phone calls a month, then Three offers no great advantage, but my Android phone has used 5MB of data already this morning and I haven't even surfed, let alone downloaded any apps or video.
You may notice that Three is nuancing this offer with ‘from £25 per month'. This is to represent that some handsets will cost more than that if you want them ‘free'. Indeed, if you want a 16GB iPhone 4 with no upfront cost on the One Plan it will cost you £45 per month.
"At Three we've built a network with the scale and scope to meet people's data needs both now and into the future - and with more and more customers choosing to opt for next generation smartphones, this will prove more important than ever," said Three sales and marketing director Marc Allera.
"Everyday thousands of customers buy a smartphone on a two-year contract. The trends clearly show usage grows over time. With its all-you-can-eat data The One Plan will still fit your needs no matter how much data you use. We expect to see more people using mobiles than PCs to access the internet by 2015. All-you-can-eat data is designed to remove the possibility of bill shock when you use data, so you can use your smartphone to do everything it was designed for without the worry of cost."
This seems like a pretty compelling reason to go with Three if you're even a moderate data user, and we think the other operators will be making a strategic mistake if they don't offer more data in their tariffs to counteract this aggressive move from Three.