Three UK to invest over £2bn in new 5G infrastructure

The mobile operator is undertaking an end-to-end infrastructure upgrade in preparation for its 5G roll-out.
Written by Charles McLellan, Senior Editor

Mobile network operator Three UK has announced its commitment to pump more than £2bn into an infrastructure upgrade that will prepare it to deliver 'market leading' 5G services to customers in 2019. Those services will include wireless home broadband, via Three's UK Broadband-operated subsidiary Relish.

So far, Three has focused spending on the following areas:

    * Acquired the UK's leading 5G spectrum portfolio

    * Signed an agreement for the rollout of new cell site technology to prepare major urban areas for the rollout of 5G devices, as well as enhance the 4G service

    * Built a super high-capacity dark fibre network, which connects 20 new, energy efficient and highly secure data centres

    * Deployed a world-first 5G-ready, fully integrated cloud-native core network in new data centres, which at launch will have an initial capacity of 1.2TB/s, a three-fold increase from today's capacity, and which can scale further, cost effectively and rapidly

    * Rolled out carrier-aggregation technology on 2,500 sites in the busiest areas, improving speeds for customers

    Following its 2017 UK Broadband/Relish acquisition, Three UK now has 144MHz of 5G spectrum -- more than any other mobile network (Vodafone has 50MHz, while O2 and BT have 40MHz each). Remaining 5G spectrum is still up for grabs in the 700MHz and 3.6GHz frequency bands.

    Upgrades to cell sites for 5G and enhanced 4G will be undertaken by Huawei. SSE Enterprise Telecoms built the fibre network connecting the 20 data centres, which were consolidated into a virtualised core network in partnership with Nokia. The final link in the chain is an IT system upgrade (with IBM Services, Tech Mahindra and TCS) that will see 80 percent of the network operator's IT in the public cloud, Three UK's CEO Dave Dyson said at a 'Transforming the network' briefing in London this morning.


    Three's infrastructure upgrades will see enhanced 4G and, from the second half of 2019, 5G services.

    Image: Three UK

    All of this end-to-end upgrade activity should put Three UK in a good position to deliver 5G services, which are expected to begin rolling out in the second half of 2019.

    SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

    "Also described as wireless fibre, 5G delivers a huge increase in capacity together with ultra-low latency. It opens up new possibilities in home broadband and industrial applications, as well as being able to support the rapid growth in mobile data usage," said Dyson, in a statement. "This is a major investment into the UK's digital infrastructure. UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data and 5G unlocks significant capability to meet that demand."

    Although both Vodafone and EE have announced 5G trials in the UK, Three is in no rush to follow suit, said Dyson. "It's not about being first, it's about doing things that will set us up longer-term," he added.


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