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Three UK reports 50 percent surge in mobile data usage

UK MNO Three said on Thursday that data traffic on its network has risen by 50 percent this year, with average monthly data usage per customer topping 15 GB for the first time in October.

These are the headline figures in a progress report regarding its £2 billion network and IT transformation project, which kicked off in 2018.

“We have made excellent progress towards our goal of delivering better connectivity, every day for every customer,” declared Three’s COO, Susan Buttsworth, in a statement.

Three launched mobile 5G services in February, having launched a 5G-based fixed-wireless access (FWA) service in August 2019. The operator now has 900 5G sites up and running, providing coverage to 154 towns and cities. It said on Thursday that it is on track to reach 1,000 sites by the end of 2020.

It has also been busy upgrading its data centre footprint – launching 20 new sites across the country this year – and its backhaul networks, signing deals with CityFibre, Colt, SSE Enterprise Telecoms, and Virgin Media Business.

Three’s 4G rollout also continues apace. It said on Thursday it has more than doubled the number of 4G sites on its network to 4,000, and claims this has resulted in a 150 percent improvement in performance.

“We kept our customers connected despite the changes brought on by the pandemic and continued to rollout our 5G networks and enhancements to our 4G service,” Buttsworth said. “I’m proud of the work my team has achieved and we will ensure our customers can use even more than the incredible 15 GB they are at the moment, next year.”

Having initially chosen Huawei as the principle supplier for its 5G network, Three had to change tack and partner with Ericsson, after the UK government effectively banned operators from using the Chinese vendor’s kit in their 5G networks. Three revealed in late November that its first clutch of Ericsson sites are now up and running.

It is a boost to Ericsson, which said this week that accelerated 5G deployments will enable it to hire an additional 800 direct and indirect staff in the UK over the next two years.

Meanwhile, according to network speed-test provider Ookla, Three’s 5G network offered the fastest median speed in the UK in the third quarter – some 201.1 Mbps – thanks to its 100 MHz chunk of 3.5-3.6-GHz spectrum. By comparison, O2 and EE each hold 40 MHz, while Vodafone holds 50 MHz.

Nobody should be getting carried away at this point though, because in a wider context, when it comes to median throughput, the UK ranks fourth out of the six G7 economies that had 5G services up and running during Q3. According to Ookla, the UK’s overall median 5G speed stood at 161.1 Mbps. Italy ranks first with 230.5 Mbps; the US last with 64.1 Mbps. Norway leads the world, with a median speed of 549 Mbps. The UK is holding its own on the world stage, but as far as Ookla’s data goes, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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