Three Bucks Trend And Offers Limitless Mobile Data

You’ve gotta hand it to Three: just when European operators (and other mobile operators worldwide) are jumping back into mobile data caps, the Hutchison-owned UK mobile operator has come out with a zinger: a mobile plan that offers unlimited data, on top of generous allowances for voice calls and texts. Is Three is shooting itself in the foot, just so that it can attract more subscribers?

The new offer, part of Three’s One Plan, gives subscribers 2,000 any-network minutes, 5,000 Three-to-Three minutes and 5,000 texts in addition to the unlimited data usage. The SIM-only plan ties a user into a 12-month contract and costs £25 ($39), while plans bundled with phones cost between £25 and £40 ($63), depending on the handset model, and run for 24 months.

Handsets included in the service (there are dozens) range from Samsung’s Galaxy Europa (one of the less expensive at £25) to Nokia’s N8 (£35) and Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson’s Satio (at £40 one of the pricier offers). The iPhone is not included in the bundled offer but can be used on the SIM-only plan.

The service extends the data allowance of the original One Plan, launched in July with a data cap of 1GB.

“Customers say the fear of incurring unexpected data charges is one of the biggest barriers to really making the most of the new smartphone world,” Three notes in the release announcing the service.

It also notes that apparently customers’ data usage increases over the life of a contract: the idea being that the more accustomed they get to using their smartphones, the more they use them. In other words, what seems like a decent data allowance when the service first launches can become constricting later on.

Mobile operators have been grumbling for some time about how the explosion of mobile data usage on devices like the iPhone have caused them no end of congestion problems, and how this needs to be addressed in how the services are charged. Most of this so far has worked out to the detriment of consumers, who are seeing less all-you-can eat services than before, and a whole lot more data caps.

But in some cases, operators like Orange are even going so far as to argue that the content companies themselves should pitch in to the cost of carrying that data. This is only posturing at this point — no payments are changing hands.

In light of these two trends, Three comes off as a generous mobile data benefactor. But given the premium price of the data service — £25 for a SIM-only plan is at the high end of the tariff market for the UK today — it will really only be cost-effective to those who are true data consumers.