3 moves to truly unlimited mobile data

The mobile operator, which stopped advertising 'unlimited data' less than six months ago because it had a 500MB fair-use cap in place, has started offering limitless data usage on some of its plans

The operator 3 has abandoned mobile data caps for some of its customers, despite having instituted explicit limits less than six months ago.

In a statement, 3 said the move on Wednesday was "aimed at giving customers peace of mind when it comes to data". In July, the company made clear a 500MB monthly data cap that had previously been relegated to the small print of customers' contracts in a 'fair use' clause. Those going over the cap would pay 10p per megabyte.

However, at the same time, it introduced a new 1GB data limit for contract customers paying more than £20 a month. It also debuted The One Plan, which costs from £25 a month. It is this tariff that now offers unlimited data, with no fair-use cap.

It is not clear how many people will benefit from this switch to truly unlimited data, as 3 declined to tell ZDNet UK what proportion of its customers are on The One Plan. A company spokesman said that most customers are not on the plan, but stressed that the new terms apply to new and existing The One Plan subscribers alike.

According to 3's sales and marketing director Marc Allera, the operator says it has the network capacity to cope with the surge in data traffic caused by increased use of apps, maps, social media updates and video calls. It has spent £400m in recent years to build its network, which is now available to 97.3 percent of the UK population. A network-sharing deal with Everything Everywhere also helps achieve this coverage.

"We've built a network with the scale and scope to meet people's data needs both now and into the future — and with more and more customers choosing to opt for next-generation smartphones, this will prove more important than ever," Allera said in the statement.

Allera also said he expects that by 2015, more people will access the internet by phone than by PCs. "All-you-can-eat data is designed to remove the possibility of bill shock when you use data, so you can use your smartphone to do everything it was designed for without the worry of cost," he added.

Our focus is about removing the risk for consumers whose experience has scared them off using data on their phones.

– Spokesman, 3

3 expects the number of The One Plan customers going over the 1GB-a-month mark to "grow over time", according to the company spokesman.

"Currently it's relatively few, but those who have gone over can be discouraged from use," he told ZDNet UK. "Our focus is about removing the risk for consumers whose experience has scared them off using data on their phones. People are signing up to two-year contracts so they need to be confident that whatever deal they buy will still be good value a year on."

When 3 abandoned the marketing of 'unlimited data' in July, chief executive Kevin Russell said the practice had been "not clear, not transparent, and not honest", as the 500MB cap was not explicitly advertised. He claimed 3 had only promoted its data services as it did because that was what its competitors were doing.


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