Three plans to continue to be the awkward one

Three UK 3UK maidenheadstore-front-hi

Three became the third telco to outline its ambitions in the 5G world this week, taking a slightly different approach to EE and Vodafone but it could prove to be the most interesting.

Although some have talked-down the long-term prospects of fixed wireless access, it does break down the barriers for those who want to enter the broadband market. At 5G World, we got the chance to speak to Ros Singleton, MD of UK Broadband, the subsidiary and smarts behind Three’s broadband challenge.

“Three is now a lot more of an established company, but they still like to disrupt,” said Singleton.

Three might not be a start-up anymore, but it still likes to maintain a position as a thorn in the side of the long-time established telcos. Just can your mind back to the ‘Make the Air Fair’ campaign of 2016, Three has always made a habit of doing business a little bit differently from the status quo.

The fixed wireless access (FWA) proposition could fit into this mould very effectively.

Singleton suggested that while there is an obsession with fibre as a means of broadband delivery, why shouldn’t the last mile be delivered over the air. A fibre spine with wireless wings is an interesting concept, and right now, it should be able to satisfy the intense data demands of 21st century consumers.

“Customers want broadband to work just like water,” said Singleton.

This idea perhaps undermines the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mentality which has dominated the telecoms industry for decades. With 5G on the horizon and fibre promising lightning fast connectivity, you have to wonder how much of this horsepower would be redundant.

FWA is not an idea which has been heralded in with the emergence of 5G. It has existed as a product in the 4G-era and has offered a satisfactory experience. What Singleton believes is that customers just want broadband products to work, they don’t care about 100 Mbps. If 20 Mbps is all the customer needs, then why worry about delivering on top of that; its nothing more than window dressing.

5G of course helps to deliver more speed to the customer, but more importantly, it delivers a significant upgrade to capacity. For Singleton, this is a much more notable upgrade. The wider the pipe, the more data which can be delivered to consumers and the more reliable the connection is.

If you consider there are very few, or potential no applications available which would require 100 Mbps, customers will be more worried about whether a connection is stable, consistent and reliable. Capacity might be the ugly duckling of the connectivity family, but it can prove to be a game-changer when it comes to delivering on promised experience.

This is where Three could make a dent in the broadband space. Delivering an experience which satisfies the expectations of the consumer, but also adding in the element of simplicity.

The team are currently running a live-trial of the FWA proposition in Camden, with the aim to create an experience which undercuts that of rivals. For example, aside from reading a few instructions, the hope is that customers can simply open the box and plug-in a 5G router. It is supposed to be as simple as that. Customers won’t have to wait for an engineer, self-installation is the aim. The Camden trials will inform the team how this ambition can be achieved.

On the price side, Singleton was a bit shy, and the same could be said about speeds. The aim to at least match the performance and price of competitors, we suspect there might be an undercut, remaining true to the Three playbook, but the idea of simple installation, rolling contracts and relevant experience is how the team plan to differentiate.

This is supposed to be a challenge to the status quo. The team are not targeting any of the competitors in particular, though it is a very broad approach to FWA, the team is launching in 25 cities by the end of the year. Most importantly, Three has a track-record of being a pain; this is a product which is well worth keeping an eye on.

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  1. Avatar Gareth Evans 13/06/2019 @ 3:04 pm

    Speed and capacity are interchangeable terms in the sloppy parlance of telecoms i.e. 100 mbp’s is the capacity (Sometimes also called speed so consumers latch on to something that’s fast).
    The speed of radio wave propagating is always the same that’s Einstein’s general relativity for you. Very confusing article, bit like doing the Kessle run in 12 parsecs.

    I think you actually meant to suggest that there are no applications hungry for the 1milli second round trip time in 5G(Self driving cars aren’t coming anytime soon), compared to lots of applications that want the 1GBps pipe.

    The whole article seems to be nonsensically trying to compare speed to capacity when really all you are taking about the same thing. You should be comparing Low latency to Capacity user cases.

    • Avatar Tom 14/06/2019 @ 5:10 am

      I already do exactly that with 3.

      BT are unwilling/unable to give us fibre (it’s there, at the end of the drive, but they won’t connect us) and their ADSL service would only do 2mbps so at half the cost we’ve moved over to a 4G service from 3 and are getting 20mbps. Much better.

    • Avatar Carlan Lau 14/06/2019 @ 10:53 am

      Or worryingly, is the article suggesting speed caps to allow more users to benefit from a stable connection.

      Speed is most definitely a huge factor in broadband and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

      Grandparents might just want to stream the latest boxset on SKYHD but anyone under 50 will want to download as fast as possible. Think of the gaming industry, every game you buy now has a 20gb update as soon as you install it. New consoles are gonna be digital download only, 100gb downloads. The move to 4K and 8K streaming will need fast connections.

      It may be true that for most occasions a 20gb connection will be fine, for browsing and such but for those times we want to stream 4k or download a new game we dont want to be made to wait while our stable 20gb connection struggles to justify our monthly subscription fee.

  2. Avatar peter 13/06/2019 @ 6:41 pm

    i think if Three stick to their guns and provide a reliable broadband service over the air they have bagged it , the only problem i see is the heavy weights jumping aboard , i have used the Three 4G network for home broadband for over a year and have not had a single problem , today’s consumer does not need 100/300 mbs my services runs @ 30/40 mbs and slows me to stream UHD Netflix and my son on his gaming at the same time , super fast BB is just a ploy by companies to charge more money for a service ( if available? ) which most off the time would never be used to its full potential, so rock on Three but i think they need to act quick

  3. Avatar John Lewis 13/06/2019 @ 9:15 pm

    Stop talking the gobbledygook and tell it in plain English; what will Three offer as an home broadband solution and will it be better than the current offering, which in my area is Virgin Media!!!

  4. Avatar Joey maggs 14/06/2019 @ 1:09 pm

    5g is bad for your health, Brussels has temporarily halted the rollout of 5g across EU

  5. Avatar Laurentiu 14/06/2019 @ 9:36 pm

    In Romania the internet speed is 940Mbps :)) and UK is like Africa :))

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