LONDON, March 26 Three, Britain's smallest mobile operator, said it was confident that the quality of its 3G network would stop data hungry customers defecting to rival 4G services before it rolls out its own superfast coverage.
Three, owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, bought airwaves for superfast mobile broadband in a spectrum auction last month and has agreed to buy addition airwaves from Britain's first 4G provider, EE.
But it is in no hurry to launch its own 4G network.
"We have the opportunity to move quite quickly with the 800Mhz spectrum that we acquired in the auction," Chief Executive Dave Dyson told reporters on Tuesday.
"However, realistically, I think it's going to be towards the end of the year before you see us launch (4G) LTE as a technology."
That will give its bigger rivals as much as a year's headstart. EE, owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, launched Britain's first 4G network late last year, and Vodafone and Telefonica's O2 plan to start superfast broadband in the next few months.
Dyson, however, said customers were not too bothered about the underlying network technology as long as they were able to consume plenty of data on the move. Three has labelled its 3G network "ultrafast", and it has promised not to charge more when it adds 4G to the mix.
"Our network stacks up very well," Dyson said. "Right now the latest version of 3G and the early versions of LTE are not dramatically different and I am very confident that our customers are getting the right experience."
Dyson was speaking after Hutchison Whampoa released 2012 results for Three UK, showing the operator had gained 900,000 new customers last year, taking its registered customer base to 9.1 million, while revenue increased 9 percent to 1.95 billion pounds ($3 billion).