In a first for Australian 3G mobile operators, Hutchison has launched a series of fixed-fee mobile data plans that do away with costly per-megabyte access and allow its 3 Mobile customers to use internet applications like Skype, eBay and MSN Messenger on their handsets.
3's director of communications and corporate affairs, Tanya Bowes, said the new plans were positioned to allow customers to take advantage of a slew of internet applications, including Skype (allowing 3's customers to make up to 4000 minutes worth of Skype calls a month depending on X-Series plan), MSN, Yahoo, eBay and Google.
The X-Series plans offer three levels of flat-rate pricing starting at $20 a month for 500MB of data, $30 a month for 1GB, and $40 a month for 2GB of download allowance.
In comparison, Telstra's 2GB plan on its NextG service tops out at $179, while charging an excess of $15 per megabyte when users exceed their download limit.
"X-Series is a unique offering, priced and packaged in a way not seen before in the Australian market. We've approached the pricing in a similar way to the fixed broadband market and it is very competitive," Bowes said. "I can't guess whether competitors will try to follow suit, however, we believe our thinking behind how we decided to price the X-Series is very different."
Telecommunications analyst, Shara Evans predicted it would be only 6 months before other operators adjusted their plans to compete with Hutchison's X-Series.
"Within the next six to twelve months, we'll see other price plan changes in the market from a range of operators and resellers offering strong revisions in pricing for more generous data allowance," she said. "Consumers want these offers, so a price war is not unlikely."
In fact, it only took two days for Vodafone to take the call to arms. Just this morning the operator announced a slash in its mobile data charges on its 3G phone network. It has introduced a 2GB capped plan for $79.95 a month, while its 1GB monthly plan, previously priced at $99.95, has been cut to $59.95, provided customers sign up for a 12 or 24 month contract. Casual non-contract users can expect to pay $139.95 a month for the 2GB service. Excess data charges come in at 30 cents a megabyte.
The only downfall in the X-Series offering comes into play when customers fall outside Hutchison's Broadband Zones. Whereas Vodafone switches its 3G customers over to GPRS at no additional charge, Hutchison will charge $1.65 per megabyte when users stray from its Broadband Zones in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth.
Hutchison also used the launch of its new price plans to announce a partnership with broadband provider iiNet. X-Series customers who sign up their home broadband connection with iiNet will now receive a credit of $100 to their home broadband account plus another $50 if they add a phone or the VOIP service at the time of sign up.
Only four devices; Nokia's N73 and E65, Dopod's 810 and LG's LGU830, initially support X-Series, but 3 promised more handsets would be added shortly.