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Three to pleasure bumpkins with 800MHz

Broadband boost before O2 craps all over it

Hutchison's Three will finally launch into the prime 800MHz band later this year, which it expects will improve rural coverage significantly.

H3UK won two bands of 800MHz spectrum in the auction round held two years ago. Previously it was the only operator without lower frequency spectrum dating from the first digital handouts; its only spectrum was at 2.1GHz, which isn’t so suitable for indoors coverage.

Sharp-eyed punters spotted 3’s applications going in last year, but it hasn’t activated the sites at the plumb new frequency yet. Three says every rural site will get 800MHz.

Three will also launch VOLTE over 800MHz at around the same time, giving much higher quality voice calls.

Last year, Three launched a VoIP service to help with indoor texts and calls where there’s poor reception: InTouch, which piggybacks off your home broadband. The network says this has had around 710,000 downloads.

Overall H3UK says 3.3 million of its 8 million + customers are using LTE – or around 40 per cent of users. “Using LTE” here is defined as one access of the LTE bands in the last 90 days. Average speeds have inched up to around 18Mbit/s.

Three continues to boast about having upgraded its users to 4G at “no extra cost”.

A SIM-free contract with 4GB of data and unlimited minutes sets you back £20 a month at H3UK – while EE offers 2GB for £15.99 and 5GB at £21.99, both with unlimited minutes. So Three’s deals are competitive with 4G, but you don’t really see the benefit if you’re in the boondocks, and/or have a 3G handset.

“I wouldn’t generalise,” said CEO David Dyson, pointing out that features such as Feel At Home, which abolishes roaming call and data charges for travellers in 18 countries (including, now, Spain) were part of a standard contract.

Three has largely shed its reputation as a low-cost network. Of customers classified as "promoters" – ie, they would recommend it to others – 49 per cent cited the network quality as their reason for doing so, and 28 per cent customer support. Only nine per cent cited "value'.

Three couldn’t say anything about the talks to acquire O2, which would create the UK’s biggest mobile operator. Three’s parent, Hong Kong-based conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, has been given exclusive dibs to perform due diligence ahead of an O2 takeover, but Dyson stressed no deal had been signed yet. And even after it was, a merger would take many months to steer through regulators.

The FT this week called the O2/Three merger a solution looking for a problem, and called on Brussels to reject the deal. ®

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