Three set the cat among the pigeons today by launching its new X-Series internet-connected mobile phones: HSDPA speeds, free Skype calling, up to 2GB of data usage, and plans from $20 a month. What's not to like?
Low prices and a national upgrade to HSDPA are the biggest surprises in 3's launch of its X-series of internet-connected mobiles.
The new X-Series offering provides:
- 500MB of data usage and 1,000 minutes of Skype-to-Skype calls for $20 a month
- 1GB of data and 2,000 minutes of Skype for $30
- and 2GB of data and 4,000 minutes of Skype for $40.
The X-series plan fee must be coupled with a voice plan as well, but 3 says it's not pulling any swifties such as forcing people to choose from poor-value voice plans: any voice plan currently offered by 3 can be chosen.
|Skype on your mobile: it's Skype-to-Skype only now, but "SkypeOut" calls are also mooted for a future upgrade of X-Series
The Skype-to-Skype minutes don't chew up your data -- 3 measures them separately, pointing out that they allow effectively free international calls if you have a friend or family member using X-Series in another country such as the UK. Hutchison says it already has 500,000 customers around the world subscribed to X-Series
APC tested the Skype-to-Skype calling using a call to a person on an X-Series mobile in the UK and voice quality was excellent, albeit with a two-second delay. The call was made on a 3G (non HSDPA-capable) handset, demonstrating that Skype is capable of good voice quality even at lower bit-rates.
Notably, in Australia, 3 is letting users couple their phone with their computer to use as a high-speed modem, making the larger data allowances considerably more useful.
Its national network upgrade to HSDPA will mean internet access typically in the range of 600Kbit/s - 1.1Mbit/s, according to 3. APC had a brief opportunity at the launch to run several speed tests on an LG
In the UK, X-Series phones can't be used as a modem and the "unlimited data" included is capped at 1GB; Australians can access twice as much on the X-series $40 plan.
|"Home movies": now you can watch everything on your PC on your mobile...
Apart from the drawcards of unbridled internet access and free Skype-to-Skype calls, 3 has a third major trick up its sleeve: Orb. It's a software package that runs on your PC and indexes all the photos, music and videos you have, then streams them out to your phone on request.
Orb is accessed through the phone's web browser and allows browsing of the computer's library through standard HTML links. On the PC side, Orb automatically tests the available bandwidth to the phone and transcodes video and music at an appropriate bitrate for playback without buffering.
It can stream in RealMedia or Windows Media format depending on what handset is being used at the time.
3 has struck a marketing deal with iiNet, the ISP with the country's second broadest ADSL2+ coverage (only topped by Telstra, which has a deliberate strategy of only activating ADSL2+ in exchanges where competitors already have it.)
People who sign up to iiNet as part of an X-Series membership get a $100 rebate on their ADSL2+ installation fee, plus a further $50 if they sign up to iiNet VoIP or landline telephony.
|Free uploads for all: iiNet ADSL2+ boss Michael Malone, fresh from signing the deal with Three
iiNet MD Michael Malone spoke at the launch of X-Series and was keen to point out that iiNet provides free, unlimited uploads, which is exactly what X-Series customers need to stream content down from their PC to their mobile phone.
Telstra is the only ISP in Australia that meters both uploads and downloads, so customers who subscribe to X-Series will want to consider churning to another ISP.
The handsets available through 3 with X-Series capability are Nokia E65, Nokia N73, LG U830, DoPod D810, and soon, Nokia N95, Motorola V3xx and LG U970.
APC understand 3 is working on a handset with a QWERTY keyboard for avid emailers, but the company wouldn't be drawn on which model it is.
Over-usage fees for X-Series phones weigh in at 10c/MB ($10/GB) -- good value considering 3 offers 2GB for $40, and dramatically cheaper than the mobile data rates charged by other carriers.
Tony Faure, CEO of ninemsn, which is offering MSN Messenger on X-Series phones, said, "Anyone who has wanted to use a mobile as an internet access device has found it cumbersome, difficult and wildly unpredictably expensive."
Frank Sixt, Hutchison Whampoa Group Finance Director said, "The vision is to give people the ability to do think they love to do but could previously only do sitting in front of their computer.
"We decided consciously to knock down the walls of the walled garden and give people what they really want -- choice. And we also realised choice wasn't really choice if it was going to cost a huge amount."