Disrupting the mobile industry

Three’s announcement of moving to a 95% cloud business strategy may seem radicle for some so Elliot Mulley-Goodbarne went to find out more about the operator’s 5G plans

“This industry has become too dormant and it needs to be disrupted.”

Those were the bold words of Tim Boyd, director of business transformation at Three as he unveiled the Network’s new cloud core infrastructure in preparation for the 5G era.

With the help of Nokia and 26 other partners, Three launched the core mobile network that, on completion, will run 95 percent on cloud technology. All mast sites for 3G, 4G and the 5G masts will be upgraded to improve capacity and traffic will be brought back through the core network on the cloud into new data centres.

Boyd continued “We are upgrading all of our sites across 3G, 4G and installing 5G. We are increasing a lot of our transport infrastructure, installing a lot of dark fibre and upgrading a lot of our capacity on all of our sites. All of this infrastructure is 100 percent new, there is no reuse of our existing core G core network; there is no use of our existing data centres.”

Fran Heeran Senior Vice President – Core Services & Care at Nokia added Three are one of the first to fully embrace the cloud in its network and will be the first to reap the benefits.

“I think for the longest time in this industry we have been very much siloed between the world of IT and the world of network.

“At Nokia, we are seeing signs of convergence, but I think Three have been one of the first in that respect. The cloud core platform that we have built and delivered enables this convergence of IT and network and becomes a workload placement problem which is really important for 5G.

“If you add edge computing to the equation as well, this gives you a process where you can very quickly decide where you will place that network, in the core network cloud, in the IT cloud, on the edge or with the hyperscalers and how to manage that end to end.”

Future Ready

Boyd added that the new infrastructure improved Three’s ability to add innovations into the network.

“We move from three data centres owned by Three, run by Three that require a lot of maintenance and are not power efficient, to 21 data centres of varying capacity on the core. So, we are starting to distribute our core out, getting ready for edge computing.

“We’re pushing our core network out further than we ever have before and what we want to do is put that closer to where the biggest demand point are so we are no longer bringing all of the traffic back to three locations in the UK and then taking it out to the internet or wherever it is.

“We are no longer stuck on, ‘I need one element of the core and it’s a proprietary box and it’s 6 months to deliver.’ It’s software so we can scale this out quite quickly.”

According the Heeran, networks stand to make significant savings on infrastructure and operations by adopting a cloud core network.

So far, savings have only been seen by sharing hardware but not the thirty-plus percent that cloud could bring adding that “Through automation and next generation software stacks we are seeing anywhere between 30 per cent to 70 per cent operational savings depending on the task or process.”


Boyd said that, as of mid-July, the network has raised the capacity migrated to the 5G cloud core network up to five per cent and that it aims to have 100 percent of its consumer business on by September and its wholesale and third party businesses by the end of the year.

Three have been able to migrate 1.6 million unique customers with Boyd adding that the network is testing the ability to make adjustments to the cloud network without disrupting the service quality.

“We are trying to just add a little bit more capacity at a time to test the network. The other thing is we are testing is operational changes to make sure that when we make a change on the network it doesn’t cause an issue.

“We want to test whether we can have a 0.5 per cent change on the network as well as a 10 percent change without causing any issues. Once we hit 25 percent capacity, we are pretty stable and then we’ll move to 50 percent. Once we get to 50 percent we are safe and we’ll move the rest over a few days.

“Fundamentally, if you’re not on cloud you will not be able to do 5G and that is the true turning point in the industry.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine