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Three UK Finally Adopt Carrier Aggregation to Boost 4G Speeds

Thursday, November 1st, 2018 (1:02 pm) - Score 11,751

Mobile operator Three UK has today announced that they’ve adopted the LTE-Advanced based Carrier Aggregation (CA) technology, which will enable them to combine several radio spectrum bands in order to boost 4G (Mobile Broadband) speeds for their customers. Sadly the initial coverage is limited.

CA technology has been around for quite a few years now. Indeed both EE and Vodafone have long been using it to produce significant improvements in their own 4G data speeds, such as by combining several blocks of radio spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 1800MHz bands per device (Smartphones etc.).

The absence of CA is one of the reasons why Three UK has struggled to keep pace with the speeds being delivered by their more established rivals (that and the fact that their users gobble 3.5 times more mobile data than the industry average). The good news is that they’ve finally begun to enable it, albeit only in “areas experiencing high growth in mobile internet demand.”

As usual the operator is being coy about their future roll-out plan, although initially over 2,700 sites across high-demand cities including London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow can expect to benefit (look for the 4G+ sign to appear on your phone).

Dave Dyson, CEO of Three UK, said:

“Three customers are the highest consumers of data, with this trend expected to continue for several years. As we ready our network for 5G, we’re moving quickly to put the right technology in place to deliver the most reliable mobile experience for our customers. This latest innovation plays a critical role in ensuring our customers will be able to make the most of their mobile devices, both now and in the future.”

The operator estimates that around 50% of devices on their network can currently support CA technology and those users could see average mobile broadband speeds being boosted by between 15% and 33% (assuming you’re in an area that supports it). The more bands they can combine, the faster it tends to go.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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35 Responses
  1. chris says:

    Assuming this is their standard 1800mhz + the newly refarmed 2100mhz

    1. Mike says:

      They also use 800 for 4G.

    2. Lee says:

      They won’t use 4g800 for CA it has very limited bandwidth as it is and is for long range last chance to get a signal wish they had invested in some 3g900 5mhz blocks

      personally I wish I could block it on my phone as very annoying to be on 4g800 as its very slow, soon as I see VoLTE if it does not go back to 4g I put phone I to flight mode or stop all data until It changes

      It be nice if three would enable network mode up change when data is active as it will stay on 4g800 or 3g if data is in use and won’t step back up (O2 do it as I have observed it on giffgaff sim card soon as it gets a 4g signal even if data is currently been used say twitch it will go back to 4g) it would help if three would prioritise it as 4g-4g800-3g (at the moment its 4g-3g-4g800 it can’t transition from Slow 4G to fast 4G it has to go to 3G first before it goes back to fast 4G)

  2. Scott says:

    Hopefully someone better versed in mobile technology can tell me if this will help resolve the current problem experienced by Three users in Glasgow.

    In parts of Glasgow City Centre, phones will report having a “full” 4G signal and yet there will be absolutely no voice or data service – it’s really frustrating.

    1. Lee says:

      Just like Newcastle city centre. Full 4G signal and only getting 240k to 1mb a sec. I have complained about this for the past 2 years and no congestion upgrades done.

    2. Jonny says:

      Same in London. The fix is to move networks. Went from sub-1Mpbs on Three to 100Mbps on EE.

    3. Kyle says:

      I always had fantastic speed in Glasgow. It was definitely fast enough, to warrant being a landline replacement.

    4. CarlT says:

      Just like bits of Leeds, bits of London, bits of Birmingham, etc.

      Three’s backhaul provisioning is woefully inadequate and/or they’ve too much congestion on the RF-side.

    5. Scott says:


      Overall my service in Glasgow is fantastic, however, there is a section between Central Station and the Merchant City where the issue appears. Argyll Street is badly affected.

    6. Neil says:

      Exactly the same in Central Cardiff and London (Euston area). Awful service.

    7. Mike says:

      You need a Three phone to get VoLTE enabled and use 4G for voice otherwise you’ll be stuck on the higher 3G frequency band for voice.

      EE offer this for all VoLTE phones whether you bought it from them or not, Three really needs to fix this.

    8. zebrum says:

      I had the same problem in Glasgow city center on Three, had some bars but no data throughput at all just timed out connections. I tried O2 (via Tesco) and had same problem and even in Edinburgh too. I reported all my problems to the carriers but their story was always the same, no known issues in the area. Now I’m trying out EE (via Asda Mobile) and finally I’m able to use data coming off a train arriving at Glasgow Central it’s been great! I’d highly recommend trying Asda mobile, £10 a month for 3GB although they have no app or website for topping up has to be done via text messaging.

  3. Phil says:

    Hopefully roll that out near me. Connection speeds getting slower and slower. 1 to 2mb down most of the time. Or middle of the night get 25mb. Upload is from a few kps to 10mb. Alot of the times upload is faster than download.

    1. S Wakeman says:

      Depends on the cause. The speeds you’re getting aren’t close to saturation a single band, so aggregating bands might not provide an improvement.

      As an analogy, if you have a 10mb internet connection coming into your house, you won’t get better download speeds by upgrading from 1200Mb WiFi router to an 1800Mb one. Your limiting factor is the speed coming into the home which I feel maybe one of the issues with 3 in these areas. Contention.

  4. Ben says:

    I’ve noticed 4G+ on my phone several times recently while out and about in Northumberland (Hexham) over the past few weeks. Would this be CA? I’m on Three, but it seems odd that they would roll it out to Northumberland this early on.

  5. Bob says:

    I’ve had it for months where I am

    Maybe it was a trial area

  6. Michael V says:

    I’ve reached out to Three on twitter but they wouldn’t give me details. I’ve seen the 4G+. According to LTE discovery app the network is band 3 rich is 1800mhz. But that I don’t think the app fully recognises CA. I’ve seen it would Cardiff but I first saw it up in South Wales valleys. [Bridgend valleys & also Rondda] guess there’s high usage in those smaller communities.

  7. Toby Adams says:

    Will the ‘4G+‘ sign appear on iPhone? My thinking is that Apple may mask this to just ‘4G’ for aesthetics.

    1. Toby Adams says:

      Answered my own question, don’t look for this on an Apple device!


    2. Michael V says:

      @Toby. That’s really odd that you’re not seeing it as 4G+ on iOS. Which model iPhone do you use? Are you sure that the phone supports LTE-Advanced? Let us know. Maybe we can do some Googling.

    3. Lee says:

      Apple has not invented 4G + yet

  8. Gedfan says:

    Parts of the North East are only 3G on a 4G network price. Shameful and I will be leaving Three as soon as possible. In fact, I’m ID and think we get an even slower service. Second class citizens.

    1. Mike says:

      Tried using 4G only option?

      Are you sure your device supports the low freq. band ie: 800Mhz ?

  9. Neil David says:

    Leaving EE for Three is one of my biggest regrets. The Network is awful, I can be in the centre of Cardiff with 4 bars showing and 4G enables yet I can’t even send a message, open webpages or use FaceTime. It feels like there’s some weird throttling in place.

    No wonder they offer such cheap tariffs on their 100gb packages. I’m lucky if I can get through 1gb a months the data service is so bad. Roll on 10months time when I’ll leave and return to EE, yes it’s more expensive but at least you can actually use the service.

    1. Michael V says:

      @Neil. That’s odd! I’ve not had problems with service in Cardiff town. Yeah, 3G can feel a bit congested at times but 4G is generally alright to excellent. I’ve used video calling while around the area with good quality. A small possibly regarding performance ‘could’ be down to the phone itself.
      Maybe you could ask advice from apple store? Just a suggestion to see where limitations may lie.

    2. Wujek Pawel says:

      Same thing happened to me but in Cambs. Three is misunderstanding.

    3. Neil David says:

      @Michael V, thanks for the message. I’ll speak to Apple, I’ve raised a couple of service reports through the Three App but that hasn’t done anything.

      I’m using the IPhone XS Max at the moment but had the same issue with the IPhone 7+ before that. It works fine in Llanishen, but as soon As I hit the centre my service takes a nosedive.

    4. Michael V says:

      @Neil. Glad I could help a little. I’ve been with Three for many years & seen a massive improvement in coverage. But speeds can be sluggish at times. I’m a bit of a tech nerd so I’m usually on the speed tests & performance of apps when I’m out peaces. With the launch of 4G voice over their 3G’s 2100mhz band we should see more improvements coming. I’ve always been an Android user myself. I’ve not been to Llanishan in some time. I found signal limited indoors but speeds were decent. Although I rate Three very highly, they are not perfect. But then neither are the other 3 operators! Hope U get some sort of answer from your questions. Excuse my rambling!

    5. Neil David says:

      @Michael V, I spoke to Three again today and after your message and they checked my account and apparently it was set at a provisioning status forum when I transferred my number over from EE.

      They claim that this would have had an impact on my service as my profile wasn’t set up properly.

      Will check it tomorrow in Cardiff to see if I get similar speedsa or more inline with what I was expecting.

      Thanks again

    6. Michael V says:

      @Neil… You’re welcome. from past experience that seems like a similar issue I had with one of the Other operators some years ago. Give it 24hours & restart your phone or reset network connectivity – if apple has that option in wireless menu. I don’t usually suggest that as mostly I think it’s pointless but if account settings were incorrect then the phone needs a refresh. Update us in a few days on it.

    7. Michael V says:

      @Neil. One other thing. Apparently iPhones don’t show 4G+. The most you’ll see is 4G. But have a look in apps store. I use LTE DISCOVERY to show what LTE band frequency number the phone is on. E.G. band 3 = 1800mhz. It displays in the notification bar.
      For 3G it will only show H+.

  10. Simon says:

    I had 4G + on my phone for ages – still got under 5mbps so i went to EE

    shame as 3 used to be good

  11. Wujek Pawel says:

    Where else except London Vodafone has CA enabled?

    1. Michael V says:

      @Wujek. Hello. I think right now it’s just London.

  12. Sunjay Bhogal says:

    @mike Let you know I purchase my note 8 direct from Samsung and VoLTE is working fine on my phone which was a nice surprise. Before that I was with Vodafone and never saw VoLTE as vodafone say it will not work on mobile that was not purchase from them. Look like three does support some mobiles that were not purchase direct from them.

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