T-Mobile UK Gets It
By Carlo Longino, Mon Jul 19 20:00:00 GMT 2004

The carrier has launched 3G data service in the UK, offering users 3G, Wi-Fi and GPRS all on the same card -- and all for one price.

Orange had been planning for a while to launch its UK 3G network today, but T-Mobile stole some of the thunder with the announcement of its initial 3G offering, which follows other carriers with data-only service for laptop users. T-Mobile's selling a PC data card for GBP 199, then for GBP 70 per month, users get unlimited 3G and GPRS mobile data, and unlimited use of T-Mobile's Wi-Fi hotspots.

Not only is T-Mobile significantly undercutting Vodafone and Orange's 3G data plans, which charge GBP 100 and GBP 75, respectively, for 1GB, but it's done the smart thing and thrown Wi-Fi into the mix. Although the system can't hand off from the mobile network to Wi-Fi hotspots, giving users the ability to access the highest-speed option, regardless of location, without having to worry about price is the best way forward.

Users aren't interested in keeping track of separate logins and pricing plans, or having to swap out a 3G card for a Wi-Fi one, and they certainly aren't interested in keeping track of their usage to make sure they don't go over their alloted amount of data in a month and pay overage fees. Removing all these barriers, and doing it at a lower price than competitors, should give T-Mobile a leg up in the mobile market.

Carriers need to be doing all they can to turn users on to 3G. For data, this means drawing Wi-Fi into the mix so users have wide-area high-speed coverage, as well as hotspots of higher-speed coverage. This gives users the best of both worlds, and will turn some -- who previously were happy just to stick to hotspots, which may or may not have been owned by the carrier -- onto 3G mobile data.

Carriers' approach to Wi-Fi has generally been disjointed, with many running scared from it and others not integrating it with their mobile data nets. But users don't care how the data gets to them, just that it does. 3G and Wi-Fi can coexist, and can generate sales -- T-Mobile's system will prove this. Until mobile networks can deliver megabit speeds, there will always be room for higher-speed hotspots. But that doesn't mean it's simply a question of Wi-Fi or 3G. Carriers should be making the easy answer for users Wi-Fi and 3G.