3 X-Series: Flat Rate 3G
December 2006 (UK), Q1 2007 (Elsewhere)
Hutchison Whampoa, owner of the 3 mobile
network has announced their curiously named "X-Series".
No, the X-Series is not a phone, but it's a tariff.
What makes X-Series special is that
(as far as we know) it's the first flate rate 3G call
plan anywhere - subscribers pay a fixed monthly fee
for access to pretty much anything they want. 3 say:
"X-Series customers will only pay a flat access
fee on top of their basic subscription and then what’s
free to use on the internet should be free to use on
mobile broadband (subject to fair usage and international
roaming conditions, of course)"
Initially, 3 have partnered up with
a variety of internet content and service providers.
Yes, we've seen Google, Yahoo, Microsoft (for Windows
Live Messenger) and eBay before, and frankly these are
the staple diets of most internet users. However two
of the services are pretty novel for a mobile phone
network - Skype and Slingbox support. Skype is pretty
well known for its ultra-cheap or free internet telephony.
But the Slingbox is something quite different - this
allows you to stream media from your home to another
device, so for example you could stream your digital
TV signal from home to your mobile phone, so you can
watch just about anything, anywhere. There are a number
of other multimedia features too.
Initially, 3's X-Series will be offered
with two Symbian handsets, the Sony
Ericsson W950i "Walkman" phone and the
N73. These are two excellent handsets, and the X-Series
versions will have additional software loaded onto them
to make it easy to use X-Series services.
The flat rate data access isn't limited
to 3's partners. 3 say that "the X-Series from
3 will give everyone access to more of what they want,
when they want it, and however much of it they want,
all free when they use it." Presumably, this
also means that you can use a 3 X-Series handset or
SIM card for flat-rate 3G access when using a laptop
or other portable computer.
The basic tariff is an all-you-can-eat
callplan when it comes to Skype, web browsing and instant
messaging. Higher bandwidth uses such as the Slingbox
will be more expensive. This is pretty much analogous
to the way fixed-line broadband works.
Dont' chuck out your ADSL line or cable
modem just yet - a standard UMTS 3G connection only
gives you a maximum speed of 384kbps. Technologies such
as HSDPA will give this a considerable boost, but at
the time of writing these are still not widely available.
This is a bold move from 3, and it acknowledges
the fact that the old style of charging per megabyte
wasn't that attractive to customers - and indeed, most
customers were just using their 3G phones for talking
and texting, particularly on the 3 network which has
offered very good value in order to build market share.
Indeed, it's hard to see how other operators can continue
to offer their current 3G data plans against a flat
The problem is that mobile
networks have paid billions for their licenses, and
as yet have made precious little return on their investment.
For example in the UK, the 5 3G operators shelled out
a massive £22 billion (€35 billion) for licenses
in a country with around 45 million handsets. In order
to recoup costs, operators will have to earn a whopping
£500 (€800) per subscriber, and this doesn't seem to
3 haven't said how much the X-Series
call plan will cost, but they have said that it will
be available from 1st December 2006 in the UK, then
during 2007 in other Hutchison 3 territories.