Dec 152010
Smart Phone
Image by Brooks Elliott via Flickr

A British mobile phone operator said Tuesday that it would offer unlimited mobile Internet access, bucking the industry trend of charging based on the amount of data consumed.

Analysts were divided over whether the decision by 3 U.K. would prompt rivals to follow suit and change their own mobile plans, which scale monthly prices based on download volumes and speeds.

“This is another maverick move by a known disrupter,” said Emma Mohr-McClune, an analyst based in Germany for Current Analysis, a research firm in Sterling, Virginia. “I don’t think this is going to set a trend, but if 3 takes market share, it might.”

3 U.K., a unit of Hutchison Whampoa, based in Hong Kong, is the fourth-largest mobile operator in Britain and is known for offering the lowest-cost plans. The company’s unlimited data offer is limited to the British market, according to documents describing the new pricing plan obtained by the International Herald Tribune.

In Europe, 3 also has networks in Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Austria.

3 has six million phone customers in total, including about 1.5 million mobile Internet customers. The company’s basic mobile broadband package, called The One Plan, costs £25, or $39.50, a month and, before the announcement Tuesday, limited Internet downloads to 1 gigabyte a month. Customers over the limit had to pay 10 pence for every additional downloaded megabyte.

Under its new offer, which will take effect Wednesday, 3 is eliminating the charges for excessive use. The decision is risky because 3 is also allowing customers to tether, a process that involves using a mobile phone as a broadband modem for a laptop or personal computer.

That means 3 consumers in Britain could theoretically eliminate their fixed-line broadband service and use 3’s unlimited mobile service. That in turn could increase demands on 3’s wireless network, which covers 97 percent of Britain’s population.

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