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COVID-19 – Three UK Reveals Impact of Crisis on Network Traffic

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 (10:54 am) - Score 18,282
three uk mobile broadband

Mobile operator Three UK has published a brief update on the impact of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on their national 4G and 5G based network, which among other things has seen data (mobile broadband) usage increase by 12% and calls grow by 8% to 2.5 billion in March 2020.

The impact of COVID-19 on mobile networks generally hasn’t been quite as big as on fixed lines, which is largely because when people are stuck at home modern Smartphones tend to switch to using your home WiFi rather than mobile data. Likewise other features, such as Wi-Fi Calling or greater use of Skype (or WhatsApp etc.), can also have an impact on mobile traffic.

In keeping with this Three UK’s latest update said that their focus right now is on maintaining the resilience of the network, which means that all “non-essential work has been frozen so that we can focus on maintaining capacity to meet the increased demand from our customers.”

Otherwise the first two weeks after lockdown was announced is said to have seen a “big increase in volumes” for their network (bear in mind that lockdown only began on 23rd March, while working from home was encouraged from the 16th March).

COVID-19’s Impact on Three in March 2020

Calls – increase of 8% to 2.5 billion in March.

Average call duration increased by 21% to almost 4 mins.

Data usage up 12% despite main video providers reducing the quality of their streaming.

Use of Zoom up 1325% and Facetime up 100%.

Calls to prayer lines doubled in the first two weeks of lockdown

The CEO of Three UK, Robert Finnegan, also made a quick mention of the sickening attacks being seen against both their workers and masts, which are often being linked back to some completely false conspiracy theories that bizarrely claim to link COVID-19’s outbreak with the deployment of 5G (See Our 5G Fact Check).

Robert Finnegan said:

“I want to address the issue of attacks on our key workers and on our mast sites. We have had over 30 attacks on our sites, each and every one of them endangering lives. These attacks have led to a loss or degradation of connectivity for almost 100,000 people – this means loved ones are not able to check in on one another and access to critical services could be hindered despite emergency calls being unaffected.

There is absolutely no link between 5G and Coronavirus. The 5G rollout by all UK MNOs complies with all global standards on health and safety which have been developed since the early 1990s – you can see recent independent testing from Ofcom here.

We are working closely with the authorities; the Government has been very supportive and been vocal in its support of the industry and what we are trying to achieve. Anyone found to have damaged sites will be prosecuted and I urge members of the public to report any suspicious activity around any mobile site.”

Robert also mentioned that their contact centres in India and Glasgow have remained closed since the end of March, although many of their support agents in India and also Scotland are now working from home to compensate. “We have nearly 1500 advisors on live chat supporting customers from their homes and this is more than double the number of chat advisors we had before closures,” said Robert (another 1,200 advisors are also taking customer calls from home).

We thank our customers for their patience and continue to ask that they explore digital options, including live chat, so our phone lines are available to our customers most in need. Digital options include the My3 app, where customers can manage their account and top up, Three Store Now, an assisted sales channel on our website, and Three Live, a broadcast channel for product demos which can take questions from online viewers.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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17 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

    Due to the utter failures of CDS/BDUK/BT, Three 4G is currently our only connection with the outside world here in deep rural Devon, since lockdown our data consumption has roughly tripled to around 600 GB/month, the connection has been 100% rock solid every single day. Hats off and a big thank you to Three.

  2. Avatar photo Jim says:

    I unfortunately moved my home broadband from a wired provider to Three’s 4G home broadband a few weeks before the lockdown. Although speeds have been consistently good, I’ve experienced intermittent but frequent issues making connections to websites and services which I suspect is due to DNS name resolution requests timing out or something similar. I hope that when Three can get more support staff working it might be fixed. I ended up taking out a contract with another provider which doesn’t exhibit those problems, but only delivers roughly half the speed I can get from Three.

    1. Avatar photo CJ says:

      Three did some work on my closest mast a week or so ago, including moving 2100 spectrum from 3G to 4G. This was badly needed, the mast was totally congested and speeds were always under 1Mbps at peak times before the upgrade.

      Since the upgrade though, many websites just time out and won’t load. I’ve tried with three different browsers and different DNS services.

      Turn off 4G on my phone and those sites load fine over 3G. Turn 4G back on and they just time out again. There is something wrong with Three‘s 4G backhaul network, from this mast at least.

    2. Avatar photo Chris says:

      If your having dns issues just change the dns server configured in your device or router.

      There are plenty of others. I’m using 1.1.1,1 on virgin (I’m actually using DoH) and it’s been fine.

    3. Avatar photo SteveP says:

      I concur with CJ. I’m having similar issues with dataflow using 4G. Sites such as http://www.Cloudflare.com and services like Viber and Zoom don’t work for me on 4G. I can drop to 3G, and they work. They also work if I change the APN to 3internet, or if I connect over 4G and use a VPN. If I try and ping the site then the name resolves, but traffic doesn’t flow, so it definitely looks like a routing issue at their end, but so far their support guys haven’t got to the bottom of it.

    4. Avatar photo CJ says:

      @SteveP Thanks, I can confirm the affected sites like thinkbroadband.com will load over 4G using APN 3internet but not the default three.co.uk. Cloudflare may be a common factor.

      Although that’s on Android, including via personal hotspot, but the same sites will load over 4G via three.co.uk using an iPhone. The iPhone was tested using a different Three sim. When I get the chance I’ll try with the same sim, to see whether the different behaviour is due to the sim or the OS.

    5. Avatar photo CJ says:

      I’ve now tested with the same sim.

      On android and windows phone, affected sites will only load after dropping to 3G, or changing the APN to 3internet. They won’t load on 4G with the default APN three.co.uk

      But with an iPhone, they will load on 4G using APN three.co.uk

      I can’t believe this is happening across the whole 4G network or there would have been more complaints. It’s been going on for well over a week.

    6. Avatar photo dan says:

      Yep I have this too, ever since lockdowm.

      Fing annoying !

      Sort it out three ffs

    7. Avatar photo MJZ says:

      Unfortunately I have had to leave 3 after 11 years. They’ve always had patchy coverage but it’s bearable.

      Worst problem is even when connected with a strong signal sometimes there’s no data. And as people are saying here during lockdown there were big problems on the 4G network that I thought were temporary but apparently not.

      I have several apps on my phone for a security system and home automation and these simply would not connect except in the middle of the night. They can only use a small amount of data but it seemed like 3 mobile is shaping the network traffic and prioritising streaming.

      Since they haven’t provided any public acknowledgement of this as far as I can see, I have to assume they have no intention of doing anything about it. So it’s goodbye.

  3. Avatar photo Walkerx says:

    Problem with using live chat is that you could be waiting hours to get through to someone to discuss things only to find they can’t help and put you in another queue.

    You also get no confirmation you’ve been on live chat unless you take screenshots which is necessary if need to prove stuff.

  4. Avatar photo Mrs Stephanie Moore says:

    I have 3 tethering which had been almost non existent, I have heard trouble the past year and it had for so bad now, my husband signed up to mobile broadband unlimited which was due to start a few days into lockdown, we still cant get it on line, despite calls, calls and messages, so wtf have been revolution on my tiny 1 bar if we’re lucky data, wr have the phone upstairs, outside and it’s no better, we move it from here to there and back again, I was told in the shop before lockdown it was because of 5G being installed, so I persevered, but no longer, Im out of contact, hubby’s never started, so we’re getting bb next week and then I’ll change providers and cancel the home mobile, sorry 3, but it’s been rubbish to long!!

    1. Avatar photo Angie Scott says:

      I’m with Three too and had exactly the same problem getting an internet signal – 1bar, then no bars, etc etc. I do have Sky broadband. After contacting Three they sent me their Home Signal box. It connects to the Hub enabling me to now get a signal with 5bars!! Suggest you ask Three about this piece of equipment, that is of course if you can contact them at this time!! Save you going to trouble of getting new supplier. Good luck

  5. Avatar photo Angie Scott says:

    I am with Three and am having a big problem sending texts at the moment! They just won’t send or take over 10mins before they are sent. Never had this problem before.

  6. Avatar photo Three No More says:

    I’ve been with Three since 2012, and up until I moved to Scotland I cannot fault them. I now live in an area where the Three signal drops off completely around 500metres from the door. As such, I have to rely in WiFi Calling around the home, otherwise the phone is useless.

    Granted they gave me a free phone and a reduced bill at start of my contract, but looking back through my phone log I see just a handful of calls that have been made using the mobile network. Now, to add insult to injury, they want to increase my monthly fees. Why, three, Why, when you not provided any decent service to me since contract start.

    Contract is due to end in August, after which, no more Three network for me. You Know Three, if you want to show true faith, contact me an annul my contract early

  7. Avatar photo Sokrates_d says:

    From May 26 I have been told “We’re really sorry, but due to technical issues, we can’t access account information or make account changes, including topping up or buying Add-ons.
    This includes within My3 and the Three app. We’re doing everything we can to fix this right away.”

    This has been going on for three days, what’s going on at Three?

  8. Avatar photo MJZ says:

    I have been with 3 since 2009, but in the last couple of months I have the same problem on 4G – it’s connected, even changed the DNS servers, but data flow can be very slow with site timeouts. But much worse several critical apps on my phone such as alarm systems and home automation won’t connect except in the middle of the night.

    3 Mobile is keeping silent about this but I suspect their network is overloaded and they’re prioritising video streaming over everything else( TrafficSense). So consequently my requests for a few Kb of data are being blocked in favour of somebody streaming 1GB an hour.

    Swapping in o2 SIM fixed all the problems or dropping to 3G was better. So long 3 it’s been fun.

  9. Avatar photo asd says:

    Nothing about the rampant Timeouts/Connection Resets/Packet loss? Even posting this comment the first time via Three I get “Waiting for site…” then “Hmmm… can’t reach this page”. Happening constantly at the moment.

Comments are closed

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