The Big Upgrade: How to make Three plus O2 equal one network

28 Oct 2016

David Hennessy, CTO, Three Ireland. Image: Connor McKenna

Three Ireland CTO David Hennessy explains how a network merger turned into The Big Upgrade project.

It’s hard to think of a bigger challenge for a CTO at a telecommunications company than the merger of two major networks into one.

This is the task that was undertaken by Three Ireland through its acquisition of O2, and it’s fitting to see David Hennessy at the helm. Previously at Three UK, he started his telco career at Esat Digifone when the brand that would become O2 secured a mobile operator licence in 1996. When Three secured a licence for Ireland in 2005, Hennessy returned home as the company’s second employee, becoming the person responsible for the building out of this network.

Future Human

Now, he finds his career has come “full circle” as he oversees the unification of the O2 and Three networks in Ireland.

This became The Big Upgrade project, an investment of €300m from Three to deliver a speedy network of improved nationwide coverage.

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“The acquisition of O2 gave us a starting point where we had two absolutely separate networks. We had the Three network which was built on 3G, and the O2 network which was predominantly a 2G network but also underinvested for a number of years,” said Hennessy.

What Hennessy saw in this was an opportunity to transform these networks through consolidation of parts to make a greater whole.

More than just orchestrating a merger of both networks’ technology, Three has taken this opportunity to upgrade everything, from infrastructure through to customer service.

“It’s about transforming the entire network,” said Hennessy. “We’re building a brand new data centre to house the consolidated network. It’s about transforming the core network, the transmission network, the radio network and really building a network that’s fit for the 21st century, fit for the future.”

So far, 21st-century telecommunications is about increasing mobile data demands, but the advancing march of technology could mean a near future of new requirements entirely.

“What’s really important is that you can scale your network,” said Hennessy. “This growth doesn’t stop, it’s continuous.”

The real challenge in scaling networks is legacy technology. “If you’ve got something that was originally designed as a 2G network to carry along voice traffic, and you try and interpose a whole lot of data on top of that, it just doesn’t work,” Hennessy explained.

‘What’s really important is that you can scale your network. This growth doesn’t stop, it’s continuous’

And so, the Big Upgrade is also about future-proofing Three’s business with a scalable network fit for future purposes yet to be realised.

“We don’t know how much data the network needs to take, but we do know that the network has to be scalable and we know that we have to be very, very good at scaling the network,” said Hennessy.

“We work very, very hard internally to really forecast traffic well, to dimension things well. But also, whenever we’re deploying something new, one of the first and critical considerations is, ‘How scalable is this?’ And that means, how quickly can you upgrade the capacity and how seamlessly can you integrate the capacity into the rest of the network.”

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic