UPDATED: Three to offer free upgrade to 4G – but no figures for LTE access

Alex Walls
February 5, 2013

Three will offer 4G access to its customers at no extra cost.

The data-centric mobile operator said it would add 4G to its Ultrafast network later this year and it would be available on all existing and new price plans without an upgrade fee.

Download speeds on 4G networks are expected to be on average five to seven times that of 3G, or 6Mbit/s.

Three’s network covered 55% of the population with a focus on 50 towns and cities, it said.   This would expand to 80% population coverage at the end of next month and would incorporate the 1800Mhz spectrum already acquired by the end of this year, to up coverage and capacity further, the operator said.

What do you mean by 4G?

This meant 80% of the UK population would have access to Three’s 4G network by the second half of this year with no upgrade fee, a Three spokesman confirmed.

However as of February 5th, the spokesman subsequently said that 80% of the UK population would actually have access to its DC-HSDPA network, not the LTE standard.

The Ofcom notes that 4G is “generally used to refer to mobile broadband services delivered using the next generation of mobile broadband technologies including Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX.”

And as Three itself pointed out back in 2012 on its blog, DC-HSDPA was defined by T Mobile in the USA as 4G, but was not “4G as in Long Term Evolution, or LTE as it’s also known.   Instead it’s the leading-edge version of HSPA+ 3G technology.”

As to what percentage of people would have access to 4G-LTE by the end of 2013, Three said it was unable to comment at this time but would announce roll out plans closer to the time.

EE’s 4G network is LTE and the operator has said it would provide 98% of the population with 4G (LTE) coverage by the end of 2014 with 45% covered by   next month.

So when LTE rolls out, what’s the deal?

Customers with 4G-ready devices, including the iPhone 5, Lumia 920, Sony Xperia Z, iPad mini and iPad with Retina display, could access the service and 4G would be available as standard with all customers’ price plans when Three began its roll out later in the year, it said.

Three chief executive Dave Dyson said the company offered the next wave of technology to its network, it had listened to its 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.

Price war?

The spectrum auction, which will determine which mobile operators can upgrade their services to 4G speeds, is currently under way, with services from a range of providers expected by late spring or summer this year.

Everything Everywhere (EE) currently runs the only 4G network in the United Kingdom, after the Ofcom gave it permission to use its existing spectrum last year.

EE’s 4G plans are more expensive that its 3G, which it says is due to the operator investing £1.5 billion to upgrade its network.

“Quite simply, some of this cost has to be reflected in our price plans but we think a 4G service is of such benefit to the UK that it’s well worth the investment.”

An O2 spokesman said while it was too early to talk about pricing at this stage, the plan was to ensure that as many people as possible could enjoy 4G and pricing was “not expected to be prohibitive.”

A Vodafone spokesman said since the 4G spectrum auction was still ongoing, the company could not comment on pricing or plans currently

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