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4G UK: Operators say ‘no' to unlimited data plans, except for Three

Last month, the UK telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, announced the successful bidders in its recent auction for 4G spectrum, which will see the market for fourth-generation mobile services finally opened up to a broader range of providers. While EE has been offering 4G services for some time now, using converted spectrum reallocated from its T-Mobile and Orange 3G network, its effective monopoly on 4G services in the UK has so far denied consumers there the benefits of competition, with EE charging high prices and offering low data allowances for the higher-speed packages.

Many consumers have lamented the absence of any unlimited data plans on EE's 4G service, particularly since T-Mobile – part of the EE brand family – offers unlimited data on 3G through its Full Monty price plans from £36 a month with a handset, or £21 a month on a SIM-only basis. Even so, while T-Mobile markets these plans as “unlimited”, they are in fact speed-limited, with permanent speed restrictions of 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream.

With the greatest marketable advantage of 4G being greater speed, there would be little point for operators to offer unlimited packages on 4G only to then apply speed caps. And despite the imminent arrival of competition into the UK’s 4G landscape, it seems that most operators there have no appetite to challenge this status quo.

The UK’s Mobile News reports that Telefónica’s UK CEO Ronan Dunne, EE CEO Olaf Swantee and Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao have all made it clear that they have no intention of introducing unlimited data tariffs on their networks. Colao stated that “you can’t provide good quality and unlimited at the same time. If everyone has unlimited then you kill the performance of everybody else”, adding that such tariffs are “unsustainable”.

Dunne echoed these sentiments, stating that O2 will “not go unlimited. We simply can’t promise our customers a high quality of service if we’ve promised them an unlimited connection.”

Swantee also quashed hopes that EE might see an unlimited data plan, saying that they “are not really necessary. What customers want first and foremost is no bill shock. If you have tariffs like we have in the UK then you solve the key problem for customers. With 1.4GB being the average [monthly] usage, you can simply create the right packages that support that.”

But not all operators are united in their antipathy towards unlimited 4G data plans. The Three network, which already offers unlimited data on its “One Plan”, has confirmed that 4G LTE access will be offered as standard on all of its price plans from later this year, and that tariffs offering unlimited data will continue to be offered at the same price with 4G speeds. Three offers unlimited data on SIM-only plans costing as little as £12.90 per month – a far cry from the £61 a month that EE currently asks for those use want 20GB a month on its 4G services.

Neither Vodafone nor O2 have yet detailed their 4G pricing structure, and it’s not clear what implications the comments made above might have on virtual operators that will use the physical networks owned by these companies in the UK; O2’s Mr Dunne, for example, is also chairman of Tesco Mobile, and as CEO of Telefónica also has responsibility for giffgaff, which also offers unlimited data on 3G.

Still, while there remain many questions about exactly what the future of 4G will look like in the UK, the imminent arrival of greater competition in the market can only be a good thing for consumers.

Source: Mobile News

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