Three says no thanks to 4G as customers rise

THE UK’S fourth-largest mobile operator, Three, signed up a million extra customers in the last year, putting a dent in its rivals’ numbers.

Announcing the figures yesterday, Three outlined a plan to bolster its current network rather than focus on the 4G technology that others are pursuing. This raises the possibility that a January auction of 4G airwaves may not raise as much as anticipated for the Treasury.

Rival mobile operators – EE, Vodafone and O2 – are expected to aggressively bid for chunks of the 4G-enabled airwaves, which Ofcom says will offer mobile internet speeds up to seven times as fast current 3G networks.

O2 and Vodafone are keen to catch up with EE ­– which launched a 4G network last month after winning special approval to use its current network for the service – while EE needs extra spectrum to improve its current network.

However, Three chief executive David Dyson said yesterday that rather than focusing on 4G, it would upgrade its 3G network to the latest technology, which Dyson claims will allow speeds 90 per cent as fast as 4G.

Although he would not comment on January’s auction of 4G airwaves, expected to raise up to £4bn for the Treasury, Dyson’s comments suggest that Three will not bid aggressively for spectrum. This could push down the price Ofcom will be able to sell it for.

“I don’t think customers really care how many ‘G’s there are,” Dyson said. “I don’t think 4G is a mass market proposition.”

Three, owned by Chinese conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, has grown its customer base. It now has 8.8m users, and has seen service revenue up 12.6 per cent year-on-year.