When it comes to 4G Three are definitely the underdog. Not only are they the smallest of the four UK mobile networks but they also look set to be the last to launch a 4G network. Don’t write them off yet though, being last out the gate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just look at O2, they’ve rushed to be the first (after EE) to launch a 4G network and their newly announced rollout plans are managing to impress pretty much no-one.
Taking your time can definitely be a smart move, particularly when it gives Three a chance to see all the mistakes the other networks make - and therefore avoid making them too. In any case Three don’t need to be in as much of a hurry as anyone else since they already have Ultrafast, which while by no means as fast as 4G is a lot faster than normal 3G, so it’s a useful stopgap to tide customers over until they’re ready to launch a 4G network.
As well as taking their time Three are also staying relatively quiet about their 4G plans. Vodafone might not have a confirmed launch date either but that hasn’t stopped them ramping up the advertising. Three meanwhile seem to be happy to keep doing what they’re doing - namely undercutting the competitions prices while providing higher speeds than anyone other than EE.
That’s not to say that they’re not taking 4G seriously. After all they do have a launch in the works but they’re just being relatively low key about it. Given Three’s comparatively small size the rollout is also likely to be slower than that of EE, O2 or Vodafone but that needn’t be a problem either as Three are approaching 4G in a way that both EE and O2 and probably also Vodafone are either unable or unwilling to, namely they’re keeping their prices low.
So low in fact that they won’t be any higher than existing Ultrafast tariffs, which should make them far and away the cheapest 4G network in the UK. That’s a big deal. You can do all the advertising you want, have great coverage and high speeds but if your prices are too high people aren’t going to bite. For evidence of that just look at the recent YouGov survey which found that 46% of those surveyed believed 4G data costs were too high. That 46% of people may well have a happy home waiting for them at Three.
Three’s competitive prices are already doing wonders for the firm as the company’s operating profits more than trebled in the first half of the year- reaching around £86 million in all. That’s a huge surge in profits and is bound to largely be down to Three’s low prices alongside the company’s Ultrafast network which is likely seen by many as a low-cost alternative to true 4G. Once Three rollout 4G, potential customers won’t even need to make that slight compromise to get affordable speeds, instead having access to true 4G at no extra cost.
Not only are Three making 4G affordable but they’re also making it as easy as possible to get access to it. So easy in fact that if you’re already on a Three contract and have a 4G-ready phone then you’ll automatically be given access to 4G as soon as the network launch it.
It’s almost a shame that Three are taking so long to launch, since many consumers may jump at the higher cost contracts while they’re the only ones available and then be stuck with them, leaving Three with less potential customers. Still, with a launch tentatively set for late this year or early next year Three shouldn’t be too far behind O2 and Vodafone.
It’s unlikely that Three will have the same level of advertising as EE, O2 or Vodafone (is anyone else getting sick of Kevin Bacon yet?), so consumer awareness of their prices - or indeed of the fact that they even offer 4G could also be an issue for Three.
So Three are the underdog in this race and to be honest they’re unlikely to win. They’re unlikely to come out of this 4G endeavour with the most money or the most success, but for those who are paying attention and who are prepared to wait that little bit longer for low prices they just might be the network to go for.