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Hutchison finally gets 3G started

Posted on 11/02/2003 at 21:33

Hutchison 3G has finally released the price plans for its "3" service, available from next month (March). And so after years of wrangles, billions of pounds of debt, crazed predictions and much waving of arms, the third-generation mobile phone services are finally here. Let battle commence.

The tariffs are not cheap but they are excellent value as Hutchison eschews profit to grab as much of the market as possible before the recognised names come piling in with their services next year.

There are three price plans. There is no line rental on them and charges for the 3G technology - video clips etc - are charged at a fixed rate rather than per Mb. Significantly, 3's normal voice call tariffs undercut most of the normal market.

They are charmingly titled "3ToGo", "Kit On 3" and "Caboodle On 3". 3ToGo offers 5p a minute voice to other 3 customers, 10p a minute to other mobile networks - cheap. Video calls are a flat 50p, as are downloads. Texts are 10p each, picture messages 25p. There is also some introductory free video download credits to get you in the habit.

Kit On 3 is a £59.99 a month, 12-month contract. For this you get 1,000 minutes voice a month, 100 video calls, 250 text message, 50 downloads, 60 picture messages and 40 video messages. This amounts to an impressive £235 worth of services according to the 3ToGo prices.

Finally, the Caboodle On 3 offers exactly double the Kit On 3 bundle for £99.99 a month (a 17 per cent saving if - yes,if - you use up all the allocated time, messages, downloads, transfers, inter-dimensional transportations etc).

What's the catch? There are two. First, there are three handsets on offer and the cheapest is £399. Hutchison is cutting that price in half for the first 20,000 subscribers however. So that's £199.50 for the Motorola A830 and NEC e606 or £224.50 for the NEC e808.

The other catch is that these price plans will not stay so low for long. In December, 3 said it was launching with "special pricing options" for its "founders". It now appears to regret that honesty, with a spokesman going round and round in circles with us, before admitting that review of the pricing plans would be "ongoing".

Basically, 3G is not going to be cheap but Hutchison will make it as cheap as possible for a year to get your business.

So what do you get? Is this 3G stuff any good? Well, on paper, yes it is. News from Reuters and ITN, downloadable clips of goals in the Premiership (40 seconds long, 15-20 seconds to download), a variety of daft messaging options for the socially challenged. It all looks rather good.

Of course, the golden rule of the mobile phone business is "do the handsets work?" Who knows? 3 may be the first ever mobile company to launch a new, more advanced service without any major technical cock-ups, you never know. That bit of fun is for the upcoming months and will no doubt be watched very keenly by its competitors.

What about coverage? 3 handily splits this up into "video service areas" and "voice and picture service areas". Which means, normal mobile network and where you can actually use the 3G technology. So where can you download video stuff? In all the "major conurbations and arterial routes" says the suddenly eloquent spokesman. There is a 50 per cent population coverage. So basically if you live or near a big town or city, you should be fine. Otherwise, no chance.

Is that it? Well, yes, you can buy 3's services and handsets in Carphone Warehouse, Phones 4 U, The Link and Dixons, so the high street is pretty much covered.

Is it worth signing up to? Yes, if your mobile bill is usually over £75 or so a month. You get a fancy phone, you will spend less money and you get to tinker with daft video messages and downloads. The gamble is that there are no major problems with the network when it's up and running and that the handsets work.

And so, in summary? Well done Hutchison. We may be almost exactly one year on from when all this was supposed to happen but the previous unknown 3 has built up a fair profile through massive advertising in the past few months and now it has come up with a bargain bonanza of price plans.

Now only time will tell if people want these fancy 3G bits (they will, sadly) and if 3 can drag people from other networks and then fend the other big players off when they come screaming into the market next year.

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