Free 5G – is it as good as it sounds? Although there may not be enough base stations or device yet, Three has completed the UK’s 5G portfolio with the connectivity upgrade at no extra cost for its existing customers.
Yes they have lost ground on their rivals over the last year but that will not be of issue in the grand scheme of things. Coverage is poor, penetration is low and smartphones are expensive. Samsung has announced its 5G series and Apple are set to launch theirs in September. Three could indeed be generating 5G momentum at exactly the right time.
“Three’s enviable position in 5G spectrum presents it with a golden opportunity to achieve the scale it craves to challenge larger rivals and spearhead a push into new markets,” said Kester Mann of CCS Insight. “It may never have such a chance to move its business on to the next level.
“A major marketing focus for three this year will likely be around speed and it is already talking about a 5G service twice as fast as rivals. This could put it on a PR collision course with rival EE, which has drawn heavily on network leadership in its own marketing since being first to launch 4G, back in 2012.”
At the end of this month all four mobile operators in the UK will be up-and-running with a mobile 5G offering. Three has said they will launch their so called free 5G services in 65 towns and cities across the country and with the free 5G service for any customer who has purchased a compatible device.
This is perhaps and interesting statement from Three. Both O2 and Vodafone have said that 5G connectivity would not be premium on some 4G tariffs, which leaves only EE who are charging customers for the pure pleasure of the fastest 5G on the market. Worth noting is that EE’s Essential 5G plan does not include Three swappables, but it does cost an extra £10 a month. There is also no option to have 5G connectivity alone, so irrelevant to what the telco says, it is a premium.
Three has always previously disputed the UK connectivity market along with aggressive pricing or data consumption models. It also looks like it will do the same on this occasion. O2 and Vodafone have priced 5G connectivity in the affordable range (£35 and £30 respectively) – for unlimited data SIM-only plans, while Three is swaggering in with £22 a month for postpaid plans and £25 for prepaid.
“Today we are celebrating what is possible through 5G with a showcase of our ultra-fast 5G capabilities marking the next step in our 5G journey,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson.
“Three is set up to be the fastest 5G network in the country; Three’s customers will benefit from the vast 5G capacity and speeds that only Three can offer, enabling the best 5G experience possible.”
Dyson refers to the telcos spectrum holding as the 5G advantage. Three holds 100MHz of adjoining spectrum in the mid-band frequencies and some useful licenses in the higher frequency bands too. This does provide three with the opportunity to disrupt the marker even though it will have to convince customers that this is enough to turn around perceptions from the era of 4G.
When analyzing the stats from Opensignal, Three has the worst spectrum availability for 4G connections across the UK, the worst video experience and second-to-worst upload experience, slowest latency and the second-to-worst average download speed. Looking at things from a more positive note, it did have the fastest 3G download speeds.
Three does indeed have a somewhat fragile reputation – although tolerated by some. Its main audience are data intensive, price conscious, city-centric consumers, but if the telco intends to make any realistic improvements on its market share, it will have to look far beyond this current demographic. To attract new customers, it will have to improve on its performance in the 4G era and let’s face it – they may be running out of time.