T-Mobile plans to boost speeds for its 3G datacard to 384kpbs during the fourth quarter, the company said on Thursday. This will put the company on par with rivals Orange and Vodafone as far as speed is concerned, and the company hopes that its bundled WiFi access will help attract customers.
The deal being offered by T-Mobile could be the first sign of real competition, predicted by some analysts, in the 3G data market. Vodafone, which was the first network operator in the UK to launch a 3G service, currently sells four tariffs for its GPRS/3G data card, ranging from £11.75 a month for 5MB of data to £99.99 for 500MB (a promotional offer running at the moment doubles this capacity). Orange, which launched its GPRS/3G datacard in July has a similar tariff that ranges from £11.75 a month for 7MB of data to £88.13 a month for 1000MB.
T-Mobile has a single, flat rate tariff that gives users as much bandwidth as they can use across 3G and GPRS phone networks, and WiFi networks, for £70. Although the 3G is currently only available at 128Kbps, this will increase to the 348kbps this autumn, said Jay Saw, manager for T-Mobile hotspots.
Although T-Mobile sources its datacard from the same manufacturer as Orange, its management software allows roaming between the mobile phone networks and T-Mobile's WiFi networks.
"The idea is to take away the pain of deciding which tariff you need," said Saw. The company currently operates 583 WiFi hotspots in the UK, and hopes to increase this number to 1,000 by the beginning of next year.
Saw said that, for the near-term at least, he sees WiFi as complimentary to 3G. The client software for the datacard by default picks the highest-bandwidth connection available, though this can be overridden.
Although it does not support true automatic roaming between WiFi and 3G networks while maintaining a session, Saw does not believe this will pose a problem. "Mobile IP is still a challenge for the whole industry," he said. "But in reality most users won't need to maintain sessions while switching between networks. The software stores all the passwords so the switch is pretty painless."
Saw said that in time T-Mobile will introduce other price bands and tariffs. "But we don’t want to overcomplicate market with lots of price bands now," he added.