Mobile network carrier Three announced today (February 19) that it will be introducing ad blockers to its UK and Italian networks.

This makes it the first European operator to employ the technology, gained through a partnership with Israeli-based ad-blocking developer Shine.

Successful trials in the two markets could see a “rapid rollout” of the scheme to Three’s 30 million subscribers worldwide, and could pull network carriers deep into the brimming ad-blocking debate, with O2 and EE already considering similar moves.

Statista reports that less than 1% of UK consumers currently employ ad-blocking software on their mobile devices. If major networks were to follow suit, the impact on mobile advertising would be substantial.  

The network experience

Three claims the technology is not intended to “eliminate” mobile advertising on its network, but to give customers “more control, choice and greater transparency” over what marketing they receive on their handsets.

The group’s UK chief marketing officer, Tom Malleschitz, claims that “irrelevant and excessive mobile ads annoy customers”, and affect their overall experience with the network.

“We don’t believe customers should have to pay for data usage driven by mobile ads. The industry has to work together to give customers mobile ads they want and benefit from,” Malleschitz adds. 

Gatekeeping opportunity

While at first glance it appears Three’s decision has consumer interests placed firmly at the forefront, the scheme could pave the way for network carriers to ramp up the monetisation of ad space.

Major networks would have the potential to implement whitelisting services, allowing advertisers who are willing to part with cash the means to circumvent the measures – a model already in operation within the wider display advertising industry.

Last year Criteo became the first major advertising company to pay AdBlock Plus to allow its inventory to be displayed on the company’s browser and browser extensions.

The announcement by Three is a markedly different attitude to that of US network Verizon, which last year made a major move into programmatic advertising with the $4.4 billion purchase of online media giant AOL.

Three has stated it will release further details over the coming months.