Three UK bucks trend with new unlimited data plan, announces HSPA+

A week after getting customers excited that they would soon be getting LTE services, when in fact the operator is only upgrading to HPSA+, Hutchison's Three UK revamped its mobile data tariffs to include a new unlimited data plan and another tiered plan that cuts off over-limit data users, thus eliminating unexpected charges.

Three's new Ultimate Internet plan offers unlimited data, 100 minutes of voice calls and 5,000 texts along with a free Samsung Galaxy Ace handsest for £18 ($28.32)  per month.

That's £3 per month more than its new basic data plan, called the Essential Internet bundle, which  guarantees an "absolutely zero chance of out-of-bundle data charges." The plan starts at £15 and includes 250 MB of data, 100 minutes of voice calling with 5,000 texts and a free Samsung Galaxy Ace handset. Users who exceed the data cap will have their data service stopped until their next billing month begins, though in that event, customers can opt to pay an extra £2 for 250 MB more or £5 for unlimited data, each of which lasts for 30 days.

Three said the new plans are designed to prevent bill shock to its data users. Its original unlimited tariff package--The One Plan--was introduced in December 2010 and is still being honored for existing users.

"These new plans see the end of out-of-bundle data charges. Three is built for the mobile Internet, it's at the heart of everything we do and that's reflected in these new plans. Mobile Internet usage is continuing to increase at lightning speed, customers are beginning to prioritize data and they rightfully expect their network to allow them to do so without hitting them with extra charges," said Thomas Malleschitz, Three's marketing director, in a statement.

The fact that Three has instituted a new unlimited data plan puts it at odds with most of the major operators around the world, which have been eliminated unlimited data offers in favor of tiered data pricing. In the United States, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is the only one of the four top operators that still sells unlimited data plans.

On March 1, Three drew controversy when it issued a blog post saying that it was finalizing plans to bring 4G to the UK. Though many took that to mean Three would be launching an LTE network, the company clarified that it will simply be updating its 3G network this summer to the 42 Mbps flavor of HSPA+.

Although Three has indicated that it wants to be the first UK operator with an LTE network, the Everything Everywhere partnership between T-Mobile and Orange is also eyeing the technology and has said it could launch LTE by year's end if it receives a government waiver that would allow LTE in the 1800 MHz spectrum band.

All of the UK operators will be beaten to the LTE punch by UK Broadband (UKB), a wholly owned subsidiary of Hong Kong's PCCW. Taking a page out LightSquared's book, UKB intends to begin offering wholesale services to partner companies in May on the TD-LTE network it has deployed in the Southwark area of London. Huawei, which supplied the network infrastructure, says UKB's network represents the first LTE TDD 3.5GHz deployment in the world. UKB has 124MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz and 3.6GHz bands and is deploying LTE with 6 x 20MHz channels.

For more:
- see this Cellular News article
- see this Yahoo News UK article
- see this TechRadar article

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