Three launches its 4G UK network, extends inclusive roaming to USA [Update: Roaming limitations!]

This time last year, there was only one option available if you wanted 4G in the UK. EE was the nation's first 4G service provider, but it is no longer the only one, as rival networks have launched their own competing offerings in recent months. 

O2 launched its 4G service at the end of August, around the same time as Vodafone. Smaller virtual operators (MVNOs) in the UK are also gearing up for 4G, with Tesco Mobile having launched its services for just £2.50 a month extra, and Telefónica's giffgaff preparing to launch in March next year. 

Three announced its plans for 4G earlier this year and today, the company confirmed that its 4G rollout has now begun. 

The initial rollout is happening in stages, with customers that have 4G-compatible devices being gradually upgraded to be able to connect to its 4G network. Availability of the network will be limited at first too; tweets from the company indicate that its 4G signal has only been switched on in London, Birmingham and Manchester so far, with only "a few thousand customers" having been upgraded as of yesterday. 

Three says that by the end of January, all of its customers with a 4G-ready device will be able to use its 4G network when in a connected area. The rollout of its 4G signal will accelerate considerably next year, as the company plans to reach a further 50 cities by the end of 2014, with 98% of the UK's population covered by the end of 2015.

Unlike other UK networks - which all charge a premium for the privilege of using 4G - Three has committed to offering 4G at no extra cost compared with its existing price plans. A further unique proposition of Three compared with its rivals is its commitment to offering truly unlimited data plans on 4G at no extra cost.

A SIM-only 12-month plan with 2,000 cross-network minutes, 5,000 texts and unlimited 'all-you-can-eat-data is available from Three for £15 a month; by comparison, a SIM-only 12-month plan with unlimited cross-network minutes and texts, but only 20GB of data, would cost a staggering £61 a month from EE.

According to independent figures from Enders Analysis, Three already carries more data than any other UK network - 41.5% of UK data traffic, followed by EE with 29%, O2 with 20% and Vodafone at 9.5%. Three says that it is adding significantly more capacity over the next two years, adding a further 3,000 masts to its existing network of 14,000 sites by the end of 2015. 

The launch of its 4G network wasn't the only announcement that Three made today, though. It also announced that it is extending its international 'Feel At Home' feature, which allows customers to use their UK minutes, texts and data while roaming in numerous countries. 

From today, Three customers will be able to take advantage of this feature while visiting the USA, while Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Macau have also been added to the list, joining Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. 

This means that a Three customer visiting, for example, the United States will be able to make and receive calls, send and receive texts and use their data from their UK allowance while in the US - or indeed in the other ten countries listed - with no additional charges. Three says that it is the only UK operator to offer this feature at no extra cost while abroad, and customers can use any network in those countries to roam, not just Three partners. 

The company's chief executive, Dave Dyson, says that more countries will be added to the list soon. 

Source: Three Media Centre

Update: A few people have asked (both in the comments below and elsewhere) whether they can use unlimited data or tethering while travelling to the US and the other countries supported in the Feel At Home service, so we thought it would be helpful to clarify this. 

Three's support pages explain that there are, in fact, several restrictions on what you can do while abroad. There's no tethering when you're in a Feel At Home country, and if you're a new Pay Monthly customer, you won't be able to use your SIM abroad at all for the first 30 days of your contract. Streaming and VPN connections will be allowed, but "both of these will be slower than in the UK". 

The real kicker, though, comes in the form of limitations on your allowances. Even if your UK price plan includes unlimited texts, unlimited data or more than 3000 minutes of calls, your allowances while in a Feel At Home country will be restricted. You will be able to use only 3000 minutes and 5000 texts back to the UK, and 25GB will be your maximum data allocation abroad, in any one month. If you were hoping for unlimited data while travelling, you're out of luck. As always, be sure to check all the small print for further details before you travel. 

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