This article originally appeared on Forbes by David Phelan.
The age of 5G connectivity is upon us, with its super-fast speeds, improved capacity and super-low latency. In the U.K., two of the four mobile networks have already gone live and, in the next few hours, the third joins the party with an offering that is arguably the most important yet.
The U.K.’s biggest network, EE, launched its 5G service in May 2019, with Vodafone following soon after. Now, Three, until now seen as a challenger brand, has launched its unique 5G offering, and it’s different and powerful enough to blow competitors out of the water. It’s a formula that will be watched closely by other network providers around the world.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Three is a U.K. network which is known for its exceptionally strong-value tariffs and striking innovations. For example, its Feel At Home initiative, now called Go Roam, let customers use their bundled minutes abroad in multiple countries as if they were at home. Other networks followed suit.
Why is Three’s 5G special?
It’s down to the bandwidth. When it came to the 4G auction a few years ago, Three didn’t have as much as some rivals. Even so, it went on to be the network with customers who downloaded more data than elsewhere. Now, it’s gone from having the smallest share of 3G and 4G bandwidth to the largest share of 5G bandwidth in the U.K. It has 30%, where the nearest competitor, EE, has 27%.
Three has a 100MHz block of contiguous spectrum in the 3.4-3.6GHz band, which is perfect for a fast, capacious 5G set-up. That means it has twice what Vodafone has (50Mhz) and more than double what EE has at 40Mhz. That last figure is the same as O2, which has yet to launch its service.
As Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight, who knows more about the U.K. telecoms scene than anyone, says, “What Three has is unique. Three UK really is in pole position when it comes to its potential with 5G given the huge slice of spectrum it owns. The 100MHz of contiguous spectrum is the optimal package when it comes to rolling out 5G technology. This is a first toe in the water for the 5G service and I guess we’ll really find out what Three can offer when the wider 5G network is turned on and you can use it with a smartphone.”
So, what is Three doing?
As of today, Three is launching in London with home broadband. It has revealed a “living room of the future”, designed in collaboration with fashion designer Henry Holland. It includes an immersive experience at the network’s central London store in Oxford Street.
Visit the store, put on a pair of Magic Leap virtual reality glasses and you can see the power of 5G for yourself. Three had a very different 5G experience just a few months back at the Central St Martins College fashion catwalk, where an augmented reality experience was on offer.
In contrast, this new set-up will show participants what 5G can offer. This includes mindfulness experiences offered through 5G connections, a spaceship gaming battle, a shopping experience and more.
All to show that the super-fast 5G Three says it will offer can deliver will bring experiences previously unseen.
With just one more network still to launch 5G – O2, which will go live in the coming weeks – the focus is now on 5G handsets, like the Huawei Mate 20X 5G and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, both of which Three will offer in due course.
Meantime, Three’s home broadband on 5G offering looks stellar: for a $42.50 (£35) a month fee, Three promises unlimited data. It starts in London, where there are many low-speed areas. You may expect plenty of customers to ditch their landlines for the fast, solid, reliable connection Three is promising.
As the other networks react to Three’s arrival, the prospect of strong competition means the British 5G experience is about to become very interesting – and the U.S. and other countries will be watching very closely. I’ll give the last word to Ben Wood again: “With the most data-hungry mobile customers in the UK, 5G can’t come soon enough for Three from a capacity and performance perspective. This 5G broadband solution is a first step, but getting 5G handsets into its users’ hands has to be the big focus going forward.”