Will other operators follow Three to offer unlimited data?

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Will other mobile operators copy Three? We doubt it

You can't accuse Three of following the herd: while pretty much ever other mobile network operator is capping your monthly data allowance or trying to convince you that "unlimited" actually means "severely restricted", Three has promised unlimited data to anyone on its The One Plan.

Let's be cynical for a moment. It's quite an easy promise for Three to make: few smartphone users hit the data caps anyway, and the cost of delivering data to the few who do will be swamped by the income from the new sign-ups this announcement will no doubt deliver.

It's not likely to put too much strain on Three's network, either: with around 10 per cent of the UK mobile market it doesn't have the sheer weight of numbers that often swamps rivals' data services.

It doesn't apply abroad, so like every other network you'll get stiffed if you use your smartphone on holiday. It's for personal use, not business users. And while tethering is supported, Three is careful to stress that the plan is for smartphone use – so you might still encounter a cap.

You might also argue that unlimited data makes up for the lack of bundled Wi-Fi that you get with similar plans from O2, Vodafone and Orange.

Then again, as Half Man Half Biscuit once sang, it's clichéd to be cynical at Christmas. It's a refreshing bit of clarity in an industry that often seems hell-bent on confusing people, and if I were thinking of buying an iPhone, Android or other smartphone Three would be looking very attractive today.

What about the other operators?

Will other operators follow suit?

Probably not.

Three's going in the opposite direction from the rest of the mobile industry. Smartphone usage has exploded, and demand for data has gone through the roof.

The networks should have seen that coming – we're onto the fourth iPhone, and the third major release of Android is imminent; data-guzzling mobiles are hardly a new phenomenon now – but if you've ever struggled to get workable 3G in a city centre you'll know that things are already creaking. And our demand for data shows no sign of slowing down.

There are two ways for the mobile networks to address that. They could invest heavily in new capacity, ensuring that smartphone users can get fast access to as much data as they could ever want.

Or they could keep things more or less as they are and either cut you off or charge you extortionate sums for exceeding your monthly allowance.

Here's a clue: if it weren't for new EU rules on "bill shock", mobile operators would still be charging £31,500 for downloading a TV programme when you're on holiday.

This is not, it's safe to say, an industry famed for putting customers first.

If the other operators decide to follow Three's lead and get rid of their monthly data caps without small print or weasel words, I'll eat my iPhone.


Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.