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Mobile operator Three UK has upgraded its network with a fully cloud-based 5G-ready core and has started internal trials of the service. It plans to launch 5G later this year.
Three announced that it is testing the world’s first fully cloud-based core network, delivered by Nokia. The software-based core network is 5G ready and is already carrying the ongoing trial for Three’s own staff. The trial is on the 3.4-3.8GHz spectrum Three bought with over £164 million in the auction concluded in April 2018.
The readiness is also achieved on the edge. Three announced that by December 2018, all its mast sites were already connected to the new cloud-based core networks, meaning when 5G is switched on all Three customers would be able to access 5G services, provided they have the 5G-enabled user devices (fixed wireless access modems, or smartphones and tablets).
Another infrastructure update Three announced is the expansion of its datacentre network. The operator used to have three datacentres in London and the Midlands. After the latest upgrade, it now has “21 data centres spread from as far North as Edinburgh to Portsmouth in the South” which are all live and “have been connected up with fibre”, said the statement. In practical terms, the more distributed datacentre network would reduce latency experienced by the users faraway from southern England, giving customers more or less equal user experience.
Indeed, “enhancing its market-leading customer experience and becoming the best loved brand in the UK by its people and customers” is the explicit target of Three’s latest network upgrading. The company reiterated its target to launch commercial 5G service later this year, after committing to invest over £2bn into 5G. “We have been planning our approach to 5G for many years and we are well positioned to lead on this next generation of technology. These investments are the latest in a series of important building blocks to deliver the best end to end data experience for our customers,” Dave Dyson, Three UK’s CEO, said late last year.
According to the latest telecoms complaints numbers released by Ofcom in January, Three received 4 complaints per 100,000 customers, narrowly behind its mobile competitors EE and O2 (3 complaints each) but way ahead of Vodafone (8).
Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Lynda Burton, Director of Wholesale at Three UK, discusses white labeling, operator’s MVNO and diversification strategy.
There will be many interesting debates happening at MVNOs Europe this November. One of the most fascinating will be on the future of sub brands and the value they will bring to an operator’s MVNO strategy over the next three to five years.
We’ve seen two significant launches this year: SMARTY by Three and Vodafone’s Voxi. It’s evidence that operators still need ways to diversify through multiple brands if they are to appeal to customers they wouldn’t otherwise attract. It’s an extension of the widely held belief that MVNOs are crucial for stretching a network’s assets. Of course, the case for sub brands remains simple and compelling – create a brand you control as an operator, and target specific customer segments. It limits the risk of cannibalisation and provides economies of scale as the sub-brand operates within the operator.
All of the best practice, systems and commercial relationships can be easily harnessed and exploited. SMARTY exists for this very reason and has been a commercial success as a result. But success is always hard fought. Launching a new brand requires precision marketing, and well-negotiated channels to market. These are overheads that don’t come cheaply and can potentially undermine the savings and aspects of control that such a ‘parental’ arrangement has.
It’s why traditional MVNOs still have their place in our market. Granted the argument that revenues are naturally lower does exist, but people often overlook the fact that the marketing costs are lower too.
iD by Carphone Warehouse is an example of an MVNO getting the balancing act of investment in infrastructure and marketing spend right. Its customer numbers show that there is room for MVNOs in the market, announcing 800,000 customers with plans well underway to hit 1 million. All healthy incremental customer numbers for Three.
CPW knows what its customers need inside out and has built a service that is differentiated and targeted. It’s taken full advantage of its existing distribution strength and combined it with Three’s award winning network, and ability to deliver innovative MVNO services such as VoLTE and voice and text over wifi.
But the setup and ongoing investment in the infrastructure to support an MVNO can be high, and Three has seen that there is a better way…
What is it? White labeling.
The best example is Superdrug, which launched 3 months ago and is leading the way on the win/ win of a a white label platform. In this new white label model, the systems and technical relationships are managed by the operator. It takes the heat out of the expense of set up, and frees up the cash to get the proposition and marketing just right. In short, the risk diminishes.
As such, Superdrug was in a strong position to take full advantage of our experience of taking new brands to market and combine it with its very powerful customer loyalty programme and distribution network.
Superdrug understood what its customers wanted from its wealth of customer insight and developed a service it knew people would buy, and rewarded them when they did. And in turn, it gave the board assurances that the business case could and would work.
Is there a retail board that would turn down the chance to extend its well-loved brand in such an economical way? White label MVNOs are a very interesting and exciting way to compete in the current tough trading circumstances.
It’s these pressures brands face to improve revenue and keep customers loyal that will drive the MVNO market over the coming year. In particular, we’ll see brands realise that they can achieve their goals via a white label partnership. Brands, which have all the kudos but struggled to make the MVNO numbers work before now, will see there is a viable way to make their brand work harder.
We’ll see the existing MVNO brands re-evaluate their approach to running a network and switch their models to white label services to cut costs.That’s where the real debate will be and it’s the operators who are most in tune with these evolving dynamics that will win out.
Lynda Burton is Director of Wholesale for Three UK, she owns MVNO, white-label partnerships, bulk messaging, carrier services and international roaming functions. Lynda has led Three’s rapid growth strategy in wholesale which has included delivering the UK’s fastest growing postpaid MVNO, iD Mobile, winning B2B MVNO Gamma Mobile and providing the connectivity solution in the UK for Google’s Project Fi MVNO. She has also driven the delivery of innovative new services including OTT virtual numbers that allow appVNOs, high bandwidth IOT solutions and supporting Three’s Feel at Home roaming proposition with unrivalled cost economics.In June 2018 Lynda announced a new white label partnerships model that allows brands to launch MVNOs simply and with limited investment in technology, the first brand to launch was Superdrug Mobile.Prior to heading up the Wholesale division, Lynda was Director of Programme and Operations. She has extensive experience in the telecommunications market across both the UK and Australasia.