Three to invest £2bn in roll-out of 5G infrastructure across UK

8 Nov 2018526 Views

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Three UK CEO claims 5G will allow users to ditch fixed-line broadband.

Promising speeds better than users are used to at home today, mobile operator Three is undertaking a £2bn investment in 5G infrastructure across the UK. The company said it intends to be first out of the blocks with 5G services by halfway through 2019.

In the UK, Three has acquired 5G spectrum and signed agreements for the roll-out of new cell site technology to prepare major urban areas for the roll-out of 5G devices as well as to enhance the existing 4G service. Crucial to this will be a high-capacity dark-fibre network that connects with 20 data centres.

Three has also deployed a 5G-ready, fully integrated native core network in its data centres, with initial capacity of 1.2Tbps.

David Dyson, Three UK’s CEO, said the speeds that users will enjoy via 5G, or fifth-generation mobile, could outpace the connections they currently get on their fixed-line copper or fibre services.

“Maybe not for the whole country, but certainly a significant majority of the country, I strongly believe 5G can offer a good enough home broadband experience for people to effectively ditch their copper [or fibre] connection,” Dyson was quoted as saying by the BBC. “The challenge in terms of why we can’t do that today is that the mobile networks don’t have the capacity with 3G or 4G. 5G changes all of that.”

In Ireland, Three was one of five firms identified as the winners of the first slices of 3.6GHz spectrum – the band critical for certain 5G services – after bidding €78m between them. Three, registered as Three Ireland Hutchison Ltd, secured 100MHz nationally.

In its recent financial results, Three reported that it now carries two-thirds of Ireland’s total mobile data. €62m in capital expenditure for the first half of 2018 in Ireland is in keeping with a commitment made earlier this year by Three Ireland CEO Robert Finnegan to invest €100m a year on a 5G roll-out plan.

Are 5G security warnings genuine or protectionism?

Despite the hope (or hype) around 5G, the UK government has written to several telecoms companies warning them that their 5G supply chain may be affected by a review of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure that was launched in July.

According to the Financial Times, the letter was targeted at Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei, which has already had to struggle with efforts to ban it by Australia and the US. There are fears that Chinese companies could be barred from the roll-out of 5G in the UK.

Huawei is leading the charge by Chinese telecoms equipment and smartphone makers at such a velocity that it is outpacing traditional European equipment makers such as Nokia or Ericsson or US equipment makers such as Cisco. As such, efforts to ban Huawei and other players such as ZTE on security and alleged spying grounds smack more of protectionism than anything else.

The letter said the review aimed to ensure that Britain’s “critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure”. The letter did not name Huawei but warned that “the outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules”.

If such a ban was to be imposed, it could seriously undermine 5G deployment in the UK, if not delay it until 2020.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com