No UK 5G premium expected as 3 kicks off with ‘unrestricted at no extra cost’

  • Looks like a data pricing bonanza for users as UK market adopts ‘unlimited’ plans
  • 3 out of the traps claiming it has more capacity than anyone
  • Sky Mobile appears keen on joining the fray
  • Ofcom promising more flexibility for spectrum assignments

The UK mobile market looks like forming up to be one of the most competitive anywhere. Unlike the US, which appears to be on the cusp of waving through the Sprint/T-Mobile merger next week (meaning it will sport just three national mobile networks) the UK is not only maintaining its four network stance, (so far, fingers crossed - Brexit and a new and unpredictable government could change all that), but regulatory policy is in train to open up the market to a diversity of players with shared spectrum schemes to keep the competitive pulse throbbing (see - Airwaves opened up to support wireless revolution). 

As a result as plans and tariffs are announced there is little sign of what some observers were hoping would be some sort of 5G premium on the tariffing front. Even if one or two operators had a try, it’s likely any increase would have to be reversed as services got under way, users got used to the new 5G reality and responded by shopping around to push prices down again - something that should by rights be much easier with Ofcom’s ‘leave your telco with a text’ requirement. 

Far from it. 3 has just announced that it’s not factoring in any bit-for-bit price increases when it launches its 5G service. Instead it says it will be the first network to “offer 5G to all, unrestricted, with no speed caps (as with Vodafone’s tiers) and at no extra cost,” which implies that it expects that the other networks will probably have to follow suit. 3 says it’s set to roll out its 5G network later this year, across 25 cities and is playing up the technical advantages of its having ‘vast 5G capacity’ due, it says, to its 100MHz of  contiguous spectrum. 

It claims its 5G will be available across all existing tariffs including PAYG, and unlimited 5G on SIM-only plans will start at just £20 per month.

Mobile service providers

First the 5G MNOs, then the 5G MVNOs. I’ve always disliked the term ‘mobile virtual network operator’ as being needlessly opaque and technical sounding. What’s wrong with mobile service provider? In any case, as we move to 5G and increasingly virtualised network infrastructure, they’ll all be operating ‘virtual’ networks soon.

Sky Mobile has just announced that it’s launching its 5G network in the UK this November.  No it’s not really. It will be launching a 5G service running over O2’s 5G network in November, just a month behind O2 which is aiming for a switch-on in October. O2’s and therefore Sky Mobile's, 5G network will roll out in  London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast along with Leeds and Slough to start with. 

Sky Mobile will presumably use 5G to make a competitive thrust into the much-fancied video content part of the market and, according to media/telco analyst, Paolo Pescatore, it has a good chance of doing well with it because of its obvious huge stack of content. 

“5G represents a significant opportunity for Sky to steal market share as it’s becoming harder for telcos to differentiate on connectivity beyond price alone,” he says. 

“Sky, armed with its innovative mobile features and breadth of content is very well placed to compete head on.” Much will depend on Sky’s arrangements with O2 and in this market, unlimited tariffs look like being mandatory, especially if you’re looking to send video.

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