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27 November 2019

Three UK delays planned launch of mobile 5G services

Hutchison’s Three UK has delayed switching on its mobile 5G services, although it already has a fixed wireless home broadband offering available in some markets. It had said it would add full mobile connectivity in the fourth quarter, but has now issued a statement to say: “Our 5G roll-out is slightly behind our original plan.”

Some of the issue seems to relate to Three’s plan to deploy some small cells or mini-macro units in cities, taking full advantage of its plentiful holdings of high capacity 3.5 GHz spectrum, which it acquired with UK Broadband – giving it a spectrum advantage over its rivals for the first time. But the company said that “the need to acquire the right planning permissions from landlords” was one factor in the unspecified delay.

That suggests the company is not just installing its first wave of 5G radios on the same masts as its 4G network, using MIMO antenna arrays to extend 3.5 GHz coverage to a similar level too that achieved in 2.6 GHz LTE. This is a common approach to the first phase of 5G roll-out, and is seen at BT/EE – harnessing the existing site grid to add capacity where required, and would involve minimal negotiations with landlords (perhaps to install a new antenna on an existing tower, for instance).

With smaller cells, new sites are needed in larger numbers than macro towers, and this may involve a diversity of different landlords, which will have less experience of telecoms deals than the towercos.

Other issues raised by Three are “5G equipment on masts, the right backhaul transmission … Added to this we also need to move all of our customer traffic onto the world’s first 5G cloud core network.  Some of these components are more time consuming and complex than others.”

Three has one of the world’s most advanced roadmaps to deploy a fully cloud-based 4G/5G core, working with Nokia.

“Our absolute priority has always been to deliver the best 5G experience for our customers, and we’re confident our customers will enjoy a fast, seamless and uninterrupted experience as we roll out and align our 5G components,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, its larger rival, EE, has launched mobile 5G in 14 more towns and cities, including Castlereagh, Guildford, Hamilton, Harlow, Hoddesdon, Kimberley, Lisburn, Maidstone, Sydenham, Watford and Wolverhampton, and has switched on its first 5G sites in Liverpool, Glasgow and Huddersfield.

EE was the first UK MNO to go live with 5G, in May, initially launching in selected neighborhoods of the four UK capital cities, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Coverage in London is now at 60% of the area, says EE.