3 Group will launch a flat-rate mobile Internet plan that includes unlimited usage, so customers can access online applications from their phones without worrying about what it might cost.
3 Group, the operator owned by Hutchison Whampoa, made the announcement Thursday together with Skype, Yahoo, Google, eBay, Microsoft, Sling Media, Nokia, Orb Networks and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications.
The service, called X-Series, will launch first in the United Kingdom on Dec. 1, and in 3’s other markets in early 2007. Those include Italy, Sweden, Hong Kong and Australia.
3 hasn’t announced pricing for the service yet, but it said customers will pay a flat fee for the unlimited Internet access on top of their usual monthly phone subscription. Customers will initially be able to choose from two phones for the service: the Nokia N73 and the Sony Ericsson W950i.
They will be able to make unlimited calls from their phones using the Skype voice-over-IP service. Most mobile operators have been reluctant to enable Skype because it could compete with their own voice offerings. Skype has previously been available only on mobile phones running a Microsoft operating system.
Subscribers will also be able to use instant messaging from Yahoo and Microsoft, search using Yahoo or Google, and shop for items on eBay.
While 3 is calling the service unlimited, it will come with certain “fair usage” limits that have not yet been disclosed. Some operators in the United States have been criticized for such limits, which typically bar users from accessing high-bandwidth services they may want to use, such as online video.
3, which also operates in Denmark, Austria and Ireland, appears to be trying to address the issue of such higher bandwidth services by charging an additional fee for customers who use Slingbox and Orb.
The Slingbox is a device that users connect to their cable box or satellite receiver to allow them to watch any of their programs remotely on a PC or phone. Sling Media, the maker of the Slingbox, announced in October that its service is compatible with phones running the Symbian operating system.
Orb allows users to access content from their PCs remotely. Orb designed a user interface for the X-Series handsets, so customers can use their phones to access files from their computers.
-Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service (Dublin Bureau)
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