Tomorrow’s Network Clears the Way for 5G Data Services

Three Business Blog Team
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On: 23 Feb 2017
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Our CTO, David Hennessy recently spoke to the Irish Times about what our €400m IT and network transformation will deliver.

New network will bring considerable changes from the user perspective – Barry McCall

Three Ireland’s €400 million network investment will prepare it for the advent of the new 5G data services required by driverless cars and the next generation of the Internet of Things (IoT) while bringing considerable benefits to today’s customers.

“We’ve been at it since the takeover of O2 in 2014”, says Three’s chief technology officer David Hennessy. “We are now about halfway through the programme which will bring the two networks and IT systems together.”

It’s the equivalent of building a brand new network, according to Hennessy. “We are using a lot of the old stuff but we need a much more future-proofed network than we had before. When you look back, the legacy O2 network was very much 2G based with a bit of 3G, while Three’s was 3G with a little bit of 4G. The new network will have 2G, 3G and 4G on every site in the country.”

User perspective

This will bring considerable changes from the user perspective.

“The first thing people will notice is the much greater speeds available through the 4G network”, he points out. “The other thing is the availability of those speeds throughout the country. There is a near insatiable demand for data. This really didn’t exist before smartphones came along. They need 4G service for the fast, reliable data they require.

“We needed to change our infrastructure to meet that need. We had to invest in the network and in new datacentres. We just went live with a new datacentre last week. In many ways it means us not being a telco anymore and becoming a data company. We need to be a digital company as well and the way we interact with our customers has to be different in future. We are competing with the WhatsApps of this world and they are really great at digital customer interaction. We have to be great at it too. We are going for a brand new set of IT systems to support this.”

This requires more than just new equipment. “It’s a big change in mind set,” he notes. “Three was always very focused on data with our ‘all you can eat’ package and so on. O2 was quite voice focused. Data is something we are comfortable with. We decided to be totally future focused and ensure that every single site in the network has 4G. Our customers will see much better, faster and ubiquitous coverage to support them using services like Spotify, streaming TV and so on.”

Standard high speeds

The high speeds demanded by these applications will be standard on the new network. “The technical peak speed will be 220Mb per second and everyone will be able to expect a minimum of about 40Mb. That’s better than most people have at home or at work.”

While that might sound more than adequate today, that will almost certainly not be the case in the future. “Things are changing so fast with the convergence of the internet with telecoms,” says Hennessy. “And they will continue to change. We need to build a very strong infrastructure to be prepared for that.”

Those changes include the advent of 5G communications, which will offer dramatically increased speeds and capacity to mobile network users. “The network will be ready to deploy 5G when it arrives in 2019 or 2020”, he says. “This is quite exciting as 5G will increase the capacity of each cell on the network enormously. It will allow millions of users to connect through each cell and this will facilitate the massive uptake in the Internet of Things and machine to machine communications solutions that we anticipate in the coming years.”

5G availability is also a prerequisite for driverless cars. “While 5G will greatly enhance speeds, that is not really the important thing for driverless cars,” Hennessy explains. “The crucial thing there is latency. This is the speed at which things happen, the time it takes for a command to be recognised and executed. 5G will have ultra-low latency. Network latency is about 30 milliseconds at the moment. With 5G, it will be down to just 1 millisecond. We are building the network of the future and 5G is a key part of that future.”

Barry McCall, The Irish Times

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