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Big differences in 3G capacity between UK operators

Photograph of Mark HeathWhile total network capacity is an important metric for 3G operators, they should be more interested in the network capacity per 3G device, which indicates the total average monthly traffic per 3G device that their networks can realistically support. 3G operators with relatively small customer bases (for example, new-entrant 3G operators) will generally be able to support much greater service traffic per 3G device than incumbent 3G operators with large customer bases.

There are significant differences in network capacity per 3G device between 3G operators due to their individual circumstances, which can vary significantly between countries and also between operators in the same country, as demonstrated in the table below for UK operators. For example, new-entrant 3G operator 3 UK has fewer customers and more spectrum than incumbent operator Telefónica O2. If all of Telefónica O2’s users were on its 3G network, then 3 could support about six times the traffic volume per 3G device. These major differences help to explain why 3 has more aggressively promoted mobile broadband services, with higher usage allocations than other UK operators.

Table of customer base and spectrum allocation for UK 3G network operators

Differences in UK network operator circumstances that affect network capacity per device

Dr Mark Heath co-founded Unwired Insight in 2001, to provide analysis and market intelligence for the mobile telecommunications industry. Previously he contributed to the standardisation of GSM, UMTS and DECT and held senior roles for a mobile network operator and equipment manufacturer. Mark has written over 40 industry reports and has advised investors, network operators, equipment vendors, lawyers and government bodies.

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