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Three offers free US roaming, confirms stealth 4G rollout

Really, Steelie Neelie... what's the point of you again?

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Is Hutchison’s Three network playing the canniest game of all with its handling of 4G? The UK operator this week expects to move 1 million customers up to LTE by the end of March next year at no extra cost. The strategy is based on only offering upgrades, thereby avoiding “selling in” new punters to 4G-only tariffs.

This means Three customers who really want 4G will get it - and they won’t pay a premium. A case of settings expectations low, perhaps, so nobody is disappointed.

Given the rough ride 4G has experienced in its first year, perhaps this is wise. Three confirmed trials are well under way in Manchester, Birmingham, London and Reading. However, and contrary to our original version of this piece, punters who fancy upgrading to 4G in these areas can’t get the upgrades. We’ve heard only a couple of thousand subscribers have 4G in London on 3 - although the gates should open in Q1 2014.

Three’s high-speed 3G network (DC-HSPA) already gives 15 to 20Mbps down speeds, more than EE can manage with 4G in many spots.

The operator said it aims to cover 50 towns and cities with LTE by the end of next year, and 98 per cent of the UK population by the end of 2015. In effect it is letting the other operators – EE, O2 and Vodafone – do its 4G marketing for it.

Overall Three says it now has 7.8 million new punters, up almost 10 per cent on the year, with 300,000 net new additions in Q3. Perhaps of more interest to punters, it is offering free roaming to customers travelling in the United States, which will be supported by the AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

EE: Never mind, we're coming to Bath...

EE responded with an announcement that it will extend its 4G coverage to 29 new towns and cities, including Bath [Are you sure? - Ed.] and Redcar, which is the Bath of the North East. Other towns turned on include Bournemouth, Brighton, Cambridge, Darlington, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Northampton, Poole and Portsmouth today, with Aberdeen, Braintree, Cheltenham, Chester, Dundee, Durham, Exeter, Gloucester, Grimsby, Ipswich, Lincoln, Middlesbrough, Norwich, Peterborough, Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent, Swansea, Swindon and York by Christmas.

So 160 towns and cities now have 4G coverage from EE, and “double speed” 4G is available in twenty of those.

EE introduced new tariffs in October, but it has selectively cut the price of some deals in a bid to pick up new subscribers. So today you can find a 12-month SIM-only deal with 3GB of data bundled at £21/month, and 5GB for £26/month.

Perhaps of more interest to punters is Three's offer of free roaming to its customers when they're in the United States, which will be supported by the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Three UK already offers free roaming to Australia, Italy, Austria, Hong Kong, Sweden, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, but this is the first territory where Three doesn't have a presence. And it's quite a significant one.

So remind us, what was the point of Neelie Kroes again? ®

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