Three 4G is example of how operator has always “had to do things differently”. says CEO Dave Dyson
Three’s late arrival in the 4G services arena won’t hurt it, the operator’s CEO Dave Dyson says, claiming that its strategy of offering 4G for no extra charge paying dividends.
Three was the last major UK operator to launch LTE services , but Dyson says the progress it has made so far has justified its strategy. Dyson says that because Three is so much smaller than its rivals, it has always had to do things differently, and believes offers such as free 0800 calls and the abolition of some roaming charges will be key differentiators in a competitive market.
Unlike its three major competitors, Three is not charging an additional premium for 4G, so its customers only need to get an LTE-enabled phone and be in a coverage area, to access the superfast network.
Successful Three 4G rollout
Dyson say that 20 percent, or 1.9 million of its customers have a 4G device, while Three’s LTE coverage is available in 36 towns and cities, a figure that should increase to 50 cities and 200 towns by the end of the year.
“I’m very comfortable with the pace of that rollout,” he adds. “There’s an incredible focus on 4G sites, but it’s much more on that.”
He says backhaul is just as important and that 95 percent of Three’s sites have Ethernet connections, which make it faster and simpler to upgrade to the gigabit Ethernet which it believes is essential for 4G speeds.
“If you don’t have gigabit Ethernet, it doesn’t matter how many 4G sites you have,” he says, adding that 20 percent of sites have it and that the operator is looking to increase this by the end of the year.
Independent research firm RootMetrics recently named EE the UK’s best network for speed and reliability, but deemed Three to be a credible third. YouGov rates Three number one in the UK, and Dyson values these findings more highly because they measure the overall customer satisfaction, whereas RootMetrics’ tests are more technical.
Three has long held the view that the real benefit of 4G is the capacity it offers and says one of the reasons it delayed the launch of 4G until last December was to ensure its 3G network was up to scratch. Dyson says its 3G users can now access speeds of around 6Mbps, which he says is more than enough for most users.
All three of its rivals launched earlier, and there was a degree of pressure from the media for Three to follow suit, but Dyson says that as long as Three wasn’t perceived to be two or three years behind the competition, its strategy was justified.
Innovative extras are also key to Three’s future. Last week, it announced that 0800 calls would be free, while last year it also abolished some roaming charges in a number of countries, including the USA.
Three’s users now use more than 53 times as much data abroad as they did before ‘Feel at Home’ was introduced, and Dyson says it has been cited by a third of customers as being an important factor in staying with or joining the operator.
“You can expect us to roll even more countries into Feel at Home,” he says, with France, Germany and Spain possible candidates, but says some countries are out of reach because of prohibitive wholesale charges which makes launching a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in some countries a cheaper option.
Three hopes to convince potential partners that they are losing revenue as users don’t use their phones abroad, or instead use Wi-Fi networks. Dyson says there is no point antagonising customers, but says 4G roaming is a long term plan as for now, Three is focusing on signing up more countries.
Need to innovate
But despite its pride in being less restrictive than other operators, last week it also announced that any new customer on an unlimited data plan would only be able to use 2GB of tethered data each month. Dyson says the backlash from some customers was predictable, but says the measure was introduced to protect the majority of users using its service.
And what if Three’s larger rivals decide to copy some of its innovations and make them more appealing with their scale and brand recognition? Dyson is unfazed, saying that he needs to create an environment at the company that encourages innovation.
“We need to keep innovating and keep pushing and cement that,” he says. “What comes next, I can’t confidently predict.”
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