Three’s Mobile Putsch – The MiFi and Beyond

06Dec10

After years of languishing as an afterthought in a mobile telecoms industry dominated by their very own Big 4 (Big 3 now, and we all know who I’m talking about – Orange and T-Mobile – now merged, Vodafone and O2), Three have spent 2010 building up their network to make a headfirst charge into the scrum that is first-tier mobile networks.

Three launched the MiFi, a palm-sized pebble of a device, in summer 2010 as a shot across the bow of the Big 3 in the rapidly expanding mobile internet market. The MiFi is a phenomenal mobile internet device, allowing up to 5 devices to be connected to mobile internet via Three’s 3G connection.

Three MiFi

For the naysayers out there, the 3G signal on Three is much improved. Three have spent the better part of 24 months investing heavily in expanding and amplifying 3G coverage across the UK, and are at last in a position to support a device that truly enhances the mobile internet experience, particularly for new tablet users (without the need to buy the device with 3G built in). I was able to simultaneously connect a laptop, wifi only iPad, iPod Touch and Blackberry virtually anywhere and with limited interruption, including a train to Southampton and deep in the West Midlands, where even my Vodafone signal was patchy (however, some areas around Charlotte Street were a bit touch and go, which would fit in with an experience sporadically documented by other mobile bloggers).

With the device leading Three’s mobile internet putsch, Three have continued adding a plethora of devices and plans designed to tackle the dominance of O2, Vodafone and Orange/T-Mobile. After landing desirable smartphones, such as the Blackberry Torch, iPhone, Win7 Phone, Nokia N8 and HTC Desire HD, Three have introduced heavily subsidised iPads (£199 with a mobile internet plan, of course) to their line-up, specifically tackling the offering from Orange and T-Mobile.

Three have an interesting 2011 ahead of them. First, Three have had to overcome substantial wariness of UK consumers, whose swaps to contracts on other networks led to a slump in UK revenues in the first 6 months of 2010. There is some evidence that, wary of Three’s earlier reputation for unreliable network coverage, consumers were unwilling to sign on to long 24 month contracts, which somewhat dinted Three’s ability to cash in on the smartphone boom despite having established the first 3G network in the UK (though Hutchison Whampoa, who own Three, maintain they will break even in 2010). Thus, Three have had to take the position of reassuring the UK consumer that, yes, their network does work well consistently, and take the position that customers (those pesky women who make up 50% of the smartphone market included) choose their contracts based on service, network reliability and availability of first class devices.

However, this position could be an ace up their sleeve. Some of the top tier look to retrench their position by making forays into sponsoring live music, film and other cracking fun stuff and, as Ewan MacLeod over at Mobile Industry Review pointed out back in September, into mobile devices. By concentrating on securing high-quality devices, expanding signal strength and reliability and communicating this, Three seem to be looking to crack in to the top tier by establishing itself to underwhelmed consumers as a credible alternative to the more established and overwhelmed mobile networks.

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2 Responses to “Three’s Mobile Putsch – The MiFi and Beyond”

  1. 1 orla09

    V interesting. I did have a good look at the MIFI when it came out because I have an iPod Touch. Just a question though. Why were you connecting a Blackberry to a MIFI? Did you just by the phone only without a tariff?

    • Good point! I connected the Blackberry to the mifi when I was in a low-signal area (I have a contract with Vodafone) and wanted to use the email function – the 3G signal from Three actually bested the Vodafone signal at the time. It really did the trick – so impressive. Highly recommend it.


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