In a challenge to 4G operator EE, Three, the UK’s smallest mobile network, has promised to provide "ultrafast" services to more than half the population by the end of the year and more than 80% by April 2013.
Owned by Hutchison Whampoa (Hong Kong), the company is investing in dual-carrier HSPA (DC-HSPA) technology, an advanced 3G standard it claims is “more than enough for data-hungry services like HD video streaming”.
The service is already available to 39% of the population, with coverage focused on the 50 largest towns and cities in the UK, and works on popular devices including the iPhone 5, Sony Xperia T and HTC’s Windows Phone 8X.
Three (Maidenhead, UK) says customers are reporting speeds of more than 20Mbps, higher than the rates claimed by some operators of 4G networks.
EE (London, UK) became the only operator in the UK to offer 4G services when it launched its LTE technology at the end of October.
Vodafone (Newbury, UK) and O2 (London, UK) must wait to receive new spectrum during an auction scheduled for early next year before they can start offering 4G services as well.
Three also looks set to participate in that auction, but it recently acquired 2x15MHz of 1800MHz spectrum from EE that it plans to use with an LTE rollout, complementing the DC-HSPA upgrade, next year.
UK regulatory authority Ofcom gave EE permission to provide LTE services over 1800MHz spectrum originally intended for 2G deployments, but the company was required to sell some of its 1800MHz airwaves as a condition of the merger between Deutsche Telekom (Bonn, Germany) and France Telecom (Paris, France) that brought it into existence.
“The transfer effectively doubles Three’s overall spectrum capacity and provides further room for customer growth,” said Three in a statement.
With EE attracting negative publicity over the data-usage limits of its 4G services, Three has also been touting the benefits of its “all-you-can-eat” offers.
“Mobile internet is about more than just technology,” said Dave Dyson, Three’s chief executive, in a statement. “All-you-can-eat data at prices to suit everyone and peace of mind bundles that guarantee no surprise data bills are designed to allow customers to get the most enjoyment from their smartphones.”
Three launched a recruitment drive in October, with plans to add 400 sales and service roles at its Glasgow office and another 400 at its Maidenhead headquarters and in high-street retail stores.
The company serves 8.8 million mobile-phone customers in the UK, while EE has 26.9 million, O2 22.5 million and Vodafone 19.3 million.