back to article Three's money man reveals UK mobe firms' dark pricing dealings

Mobile operator Three reckons that networks are giving punters such a crappy experience with hidden charges, it's no surprise they want to bail out at the end of a contract. Networks resort to “dark pricing” tactics to recoup for the subsidies for swanky smartphones, he said. The firm's chief financial officer, Richard …


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  1. AceRimmer

    A lot of common sense there

    As a Three customer my only current concern is tethering using the all you can eat data plan.

    1. Ambivalous Crowboard

      Re: A lot of common sense there

      Well then it shouldn't be a concern should it? As a Three customer I tether my laptop and Android tablet to my phone all the time and not a single extra charge came in.

      So I did this abroad, too; in one of Three's Feel At Home countries. In Australia I tethered my tablet to my phone for a few minutes, did a couple of downloads, then afterwards checked my charges. Nothing. So I then spent the rest of the time streaming music and all sorts while in Australia and got zero extra charges. In fact I left my hotspot on most of the time so my partner could tether her phone on and avoid her data charges too.

      So what actually is your concern?

      1. AceRimmer
        1. Conor Turton

          Re: A lot of common sense there

          Only applies to new customers, not existing ones on existing or renewing existing contracts.

          1. Another Photographer

            Re: A lot of common sense there

            Yea, I'm fine on my existing £18 a month One Plan all I can eat tether deal. But I was planning on getting a new iPhone 5s to replace my old 4. Which means a new contract which means bye-bye unlimited tethering. Maybe I don't always use 2GB a month (the new limit) but the whole point about the One Plan is 'unlimited' means you don't have to keep one eye on the meter.

            I think Three pretty much lost their USP doing this.

            On the other hand their website says the new price list doesn't apply to business customers and refers them to the old price list. But the business deals pages don't work for me...

            1. Free Maps?

              Re: A lot of common sense there

              Keep your contract and buy the phone outright?

              1. Christopher W

                Re: A lot of common sense there

                And this is what sensible bears do - I kept my awesome grandfathered tariff with T-Mobile for six years because I just replaced handsets on my own initiative.

                I'd rather spread the phone over a 0% credit card than owe the network more and get less, especially as they never offer quite as generous an allowance, if you do a direct comparison with a package's nearest SIM-only neighbour.

          2. Elmer Phud

            Re: A lot of common sense there

            "Only applies to new customers, not existing ones on existing or renewing existing contracts."

            Great way of attracting new customers.

      2. AceRimmer

        Re: A lot of common sense there

        "So what actually is your concern?"

        I just posted a comment with links which will probably take a few hours to be moderated.

        There was some recent news about Three scrapping unlimited tethering. As its a feature which I too make a lot of use of I'm justifiably concerned about it being limited or scrapped.

        Edit: This comment is also being moderated! Why?

        1. 's water music

          Re: A lot of common sense there

          Edit: This comment is also being moderated! Why?

          I think moderation is on by default for Orlowski articles

      3. fnusnu

        Re: A lot of common sense there


      4. NightFox

        Re: A lot of common sense there

        Well maybe it is a concern because despite Three making all this noise about providing consumers with what they want with their 0800 calls and (admittedly great) Feel at Home service, it also seems to have quietly decided that consumers no longer want the "all you can eat" uncapped data plans that previously seemed to be such a big marketing thing for them. So, goodbye unlimited data today, maybe goodbye inclusive tethering tomorrow?

        Yes, you can stick with your existing uncapped data plan for now and just stay in your contract for year after year, but the mobile operators are all experts of making customers feel more and more uncomfortable in the legacy contracts they no longer want them to be in as the years go by. Let's see if they're going to want existing contract customers to sign up to new T&Cs when their "free" 4G upgrade becomes available.

        And FYI tethering isn't covered under the Feel at Home service - Three's quite clear on that. You may have been able to do it (personally it didn't work for me in Sweden or Denmark), but as it's specifically prohibited that's no guarantee it will work next time.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: consumers no longer want the "all you can eat"

          I doubt it has anything to do with what consumers want and everything to do with the insanity that is the all you can eat plan fueling so many carriers and ISPs.

          The real trick is whether they set reasonable parameters around the new pricing plans. We should each be paying for what we use, not subsidizing other users.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A lot of common sense there

          "Let's see if they're going to want existing contract customers to sign up to new T&Cs when their "free" 4G upgrade becomes available"

          I've had 4G for a couple of weeks; no change to the T&Cs, or even a suggestion of one.

          @Another Photographer,

          If you can put up the cash up front, why not just buy the phone outright, not from Three, and get a SIM only deal, which still has all you can eat data available. Parting with that much in one go on a phone is severely painful, but I did it last year for the first time since the late 90s (when it was the norm), and reckon it was a good choice. Each to his own, but I personally hate the 24 monthly drip of a sizeable wad of cash, and I don't get tied to a contract at a time when prices are shifting a good deal, and I hate the way the networks use the lure of shiny toys to mask what are often lousy deals - the SIMO deals are usually more competitive, particularly with 3rd party discounts.

  2. Anonymous Coward 101

    This kind of Dark Pricing is everywhere. Whether one is buying flight tickets, furniture, power, insurance, or whatever, it's here to stay. Lumping on hidden costs, or punishing so-called 'loyal' (i.e. complacent) customers with higher charges when a contract comes up for renewal is part and parcel of modern commence.

    1. Robin

      Flight Tickets

      "This kind of Dark Pricing is everywhere. Whether one is buying flight tickets, furniture, power, insurance, or whatever, it's here to stay."

      I fly a lot and I have to say that those budget companies have pretty much got their act together. I'm usually the last to defend RyanAir for example, but even their up-front price matches the one you eventually pay if you don't add any baggage or whatever and pay by debit card. Credit card charges add on a couple of quid maybe. I'd go so far as to say the EasyJet site is actually a decent 'shopping' experience now.

      Generally agree with your point though. Car hire is particularly bad, with the final price being sometimes double the 'quote' up front.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It may be "part and parcel" of modern commerce, but savvy consumers can, and should, fight back, and not accept it.

      I don't want to take the financial risk of a 2-year contract (or 30 months or even 3 years as some contracts "offer"). So I buy a smartphone outright, and take a SIM-only PAYG or monthly contract for maximum flexibility.

      At the moment it's GiffGaff who've had free 0800 calls from, IIRC, day one (no, no affiliate link here :-) ). But I can change anytime I want. No mobile operator will lock me in.

  3. Oli 1

    It was the call charges and the unforgiving call centre that drove me away from three for the second time, but sadly there is no comparison when it comes to mobile broadband. Always had a signal and it always worked.

    Ring an 0844 to pay a utility bill, oh that'll be £7

    I see they are cutting these charges now, it'll be at least another 18 months before i think about trying them again, and thats really only down to o2 completely over-selling their network.

    "Best of a bad situation"

  4. ukgnome

    Seems to me that Three are just doing some willy waving for free headlines....oh look it has worked.

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge


    Airtime and phone subsidy really need to be separated into two different contracts, and when you get to the end of your year, year-and-a-half, or two years of subsidy you automatically get a 'discount' (i.e. you only pay airtime).

    The bloke from Three says that prices would only need to rise to cover the cost of a cappuccino but in fact the cost of airtime should fall as, if done properly, the extra 'dark pricing' charges that pay would be part of the subsidy, not airtime.

    1. jzlondon

      Re: Subsidy

      Yes, phone subsidy should be sold separately as what it really is: hire purchase.

  6. dogged

    As an o2 customer who has sufficient minutes and texts but ALWAYS runs out of the poxy 512MB data allowance three weeks into each month (and there is no way to increase that without paying for more minutes and texts), I just applied online for Three's One Plan SIM-only contract because enough is, frankly, enough.

  7. Rathernicelydone

    Toothless regulator

    If we didn't have such a toothless regulator we would see clearer and fairer pricing. Seems to apply to a lot of industries these days...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I have been telling this for years, you greedy bastards.

    Whats made you wake up so late?

    Surely, not any philanthrophy or altuistic awakening on your part.

    End of the day, all operators are dumb pipes and thats the way it should be, despite all the pretnesions of providing subsidy to punters. (They have long gone when you started pricing contract upwards of £25 per month and have more than recovered the wholesale costs of handsets. Eg when Google was offering £99 nexus handsets, you operators wanted to charge 149 for them. What subsidy, then huh?).

    Maybe the churn hurting you now? About time.

    Next thing, remove the 24 months tie in !

    1. Peter 26

      Re: Really?

      Ofcom is making all the mobile networks stop charging for freephone calls and a number of other changes. They just did it early so they can boast about it being for the customers, not because they were forced to.

      They still deserve some kudos for doing it early, I also don't think everything they are doing would have been forced by Ofcom.

  9. Longrod_von_Hugendong
    Thumb Up

    I just moved to three...

    because where I live in Scotland I get better data (3G) coverage than O2 or Vodaphone. If i have to be honest, 4G doesn't interest me since 3G speeds pretty much covers everything I need. Sometimes its as fast as my ADSL. Signal seems just as good. 08 numbers have always been a pain in the ass, even for landlines where they are never covered as part of free anything. That is way exists. I would suggest people go and take a look.

    ofcom are useless pile of pish - always have been, always will be. So get used to that. Something really needs to be done about it.

  10. rhydian

    One thing he doesn't mention...

    Are those networks (I'm looking at you EE) who think that the customer should have to stump up x% extra per month to cover "inflation" months after a contract cost has been agreed.

    Surprisingly enough my 18month landline contract from BT (hardly known for being generous) doesn't have this clause...

  11. MR W B Jones

    Three not that good

    To thous saying about tethering and not having problems, let me tell you there are plenty of problems tethering with 3, when i had my htc wildfire it did not cost me any extra to tether my laptop, now i have a "new" contract and S4 they want an extra fiver a month for me to tether, I tried it on my new phone not knowing that this was the case and it broke my phone for 3 days as three punished me for even daring to try it.

    I pay for unlimited data so why does it matter if that data is coming from my phone or my laptop? I would not mind but I only even need to tether once a year, so its not worth 5 quid a month.

    Its not like I dont get my data share in, as I am managing to Download 5 gig a month on my phone just using apps and such.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Three not that good

      I think the 'All You Can Eat' specifically does not allow tethering, but the 'One Plan' does allow tethering.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Three not that good

        Hmm. I thought that the All you can eat when coupled with the MiFi gave you that anyway and within the terms of the contract?

        I tether my company iPhone (three network) to my MacBook in the office and get 4G network speeds without the company firewalls (who block El Reg btw) and the company pays! Can't really ask for more than that.

        anon just in case the Head IT Honcho is reading this forum (no doubt able to bypass the 'blocked' list of sites).

  12. Barrie Shepherd

    Seperate contracts

    I seem to remember that the handset subsidy was allowed by the the Regulator at the start up of mobile phone Networks. Handsets were so expensive, as portion of average monthly earnings, that there would be very slow uptake and carriers would effectively have no business model.

    That has now changed and handsets are far less expensive but carriers have held onto the subsidy model so they can capture punters with contracts for the "latest and greatest" - effectively distracting punters from assessing the best airtime deals around.

    This is now distorting the business as those who don't bother to upgrade to the latest iThingy are still paying for the privilege (through airtime costs) of others who do upgrade through the inflated call costs under pinning the subsidy. Carriers are not charities they just off set the cost of subsidy over the airtime costs to all. Ask yourself why if you go for a SIM only deal do you still pay the same per minute as others who have a new iThingy subsidised handset?

    In my view carriers should offer airtime contracts not tied to handset purchase (after all that's all the current arrangements are) then we will see competition in the airtime costs as opposed to the current "I give you the latest and greatest" selling rather than the cost of operating the phone.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Three 0800 pricing

    As I understand it, if you sign up for Three's free 0800 offer, you lose unlimited data.

    I may be wrong about this, I haven't spent enough time checking, but it seems to jar a little with their new openness.

    1. taxman

      Re: Three 0800 pricing

      From the latest 3 Price Guide:

      All 0800, 0808 and 0500 calls are free.

      Your data allowance can be used as a personal hotspot (we used to call this tethering) – if you choose a plan with all- you-can-eat data, you can use up to 2GB of this allowance each month as

      a personal hotspot.

      So yes you can give up your current contract to get free 0800 calls and lose your unlimited tethering.....or keep the tethering and not call any 0800 etc numbers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Three 0800 pricing

        alternatively, you can just stay on your existing One plan and wait for the 0800 to become Free next year when it is required by Law.

  14. jzlondon

    I've been a Three customer for 3-4 years now and really like them, having tried all the big operators and several smaller ones over the years. Being able to use your data contract in the US without worry is *outstanding*, as is the general transparency of their pricing.

    As a separate point, buying a phone on contract is crazy if you can afford not to. It works out the same or cheaper, but you're not tied down and if enough of us did it, perhaps the networks would feel a bit more pressure to compete properly.

  15. Nadjau

    Three's T&Cs are pretty clear on tethering here and in Oz:-

    Want to use your data allowance as a personal hotspot?

    If you are on The One Plan contract (handset and SIM) we’re happy for you to use your data allowance as a personal hotspot (we used to call this tethering). This means you can connect your phone to other devices via USB or WiFi to connect to the internet. If you’re not on The One Plan, you can get a Mobile Internet Add-on or a Personal Hotspot Add-on. See page5 on how to get one. If you have a Personal Hotspot Add-on, this will not work in a Feel At Home country.

  16. Swarthy


    I wish US cell customers got ripped off as bad as those in the UK; it would cut my bill in half, if not more.

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