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Three UK See Record Mobile Data Traffic of 1 Terabits Per Second UPDATE

Friday, April 8th, 2022 (9:17 am) - Score 5,496
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Mobile operator Three UK has today published their new ‘Mobile Britain’ report, which summarises key statistics from their network and reveals that mobile broadband (data) traffic hit an all-time high of “1 tbps (terabyte per second)” on Tuesday night – between 21:15 and 21:30 (they actually mean Terabits).

Before we get started, it’s important to address that claim of having hit “1 tbps (terabyte per second)“. We are currently trying to clarify this because network operators generally use Terabits per second (Tbps) when referencing transfer speeds, NOT Bytes. Likewise, if using Bytes, they should be writing it as TBps, not tbps. It’s important to get this right because 1 TeraByte converts to 8 Terabits.

NOTE: Three UK recently reported that the average 4G and 5G data usage, per customer, per month on their network jumped to 19GB (GigaBytes) in Dec 2021, while – for context – Ofcom’s figure for fixed line broadband services is 453GB.

Just for comparison, Sky Broadband’s fixed line network hit a peak of 19.9Tbps (Terabits per second) in December 2021 and BT achieved 25.5Tbps in that same month. But if we convert that to TeraBytes then the figures are 2.49TBps and 3.19TBps respectively. Suffice to say, we suspect that Three UK may have meant “Terabits” not “TeraBytes” per second.

In any case, the latest peak is understood to have been driven by customers streaming Champion’s League football matches over their mobile data connections, with both Manchester City and Liverpool playing on that day. The new report also states that 5G is expected to account for 35% of data usage on their network by the end of 2022.

In addition, usage of Three’s 5G network is up by 385% since 2020 – overtaking 3G for the first time. But this isn’t as dramatic as it sounds when you consider that 2020 is the year when their rollout first got properly underway and 3G has largely already been superseded by 4G (i.e. it’s easy to show a big increase when you’re starting from a low point or zero).

Three-UK-5G-Data-Usage-Jan-2022

We assume Gbps above means Gigabits per second. Otherwise, Three’s new report includes various other statistics, which we’ve endeavoured to summarise below. You can also check out the Full Report via Google Drive.

Highlights from Three’s Mobile Britain Report

➤ Three claims that its network now carries 28% of the UK’s mobile data traffic.

➤ Three’s 5G coverage currently reaches more than a third of the UK population and is now live in 370 locations or 2,700 sites (masts etc.), which is up from 2,500 sites just a month ago.

➤ In the last two years, some 81% of monthly data peaks were linked to football matches.

➤ In December 2021 the Manchester United versus Arsenal match, which saw Manchester United secure a 3-2 comeback, generated the highest monthly data peak of all of 2021 with a massive 937Gbps (Gigabits per second) on Three UK.

➤ Sunday streaming was responsible for two of the largest monthly peaks (24 October 2021 and 23 January 2022) as well as almost a quarter of last year’s weekly peaks. This coincides with a significant increase in mobile
broadband usage in 2021, in which average monthly data usage grew 54% year-on-year. The same trendy is already showing for 2022.

➤ 39% now prefer calling to texting, and 30% make more audio calls than pre lockdown.

➤ While the length of time spent on calls has increased in the last couple of years, the total volume of calls has declined from 18.2bn calls in 2018 to 17.6bn calls in 2021 (i.e. between 2019 and 2020 people made 1.5 billion fewer calls, but were on the phone for 2 billion more minutes).

➤ The number of 5G devices connecting to Three’s network increased by four times – 299% from Dec 2020 to Dec 2021 to 2.2 million devices.

According to Carlo Melis, Chief Network Officer at Three UK: “It’s out with the old, in with the new for mobile users in the UK. 5G has taken off like never before and it’s telling that it has now surpassed 3G data usage on our network. Superfast connectivity is the future for our customers – with sport and entertainment streaming two of the key drivers of data surges in the last year. To keep up with the demand for data, we are investing more than £2bn in transforming our network and IT infrastructure, with 5G now live in over 370 locations covering half of the UK population.”

UPDATE 10:21am

Three UK has confirmed that they meant Terabits per second, not TeraBytes.

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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.
Leave a Comment
10 Responses
  1. Lucian says:

    While it’s not as impressive as it could have been – as you pointed it out, Mark, it does show the relentless usage growth that will only get more and more acute with the adoption of 5G.

    It goes hand in hand with the article linked in the forum, where Vodafone is worried about 5G and backhaul issues.
    https://www.ispreview.co.uk/talk/threads/vodafone-uk-backhaul-pain.38152/

    It’s very clear all the traffic numbers will significantly go higher and higher in the next few years.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Same challenges as we’ve always seen with new mobile and broadband technologies (e.g. dialup to ADSL, ADSL to FTTC, FTTC to HFC/FTTP) 🙂 . Usage only ever grows, albeit not as quickly as the speed of the connections themselves, as it takes time for content quality and size to catch-up. Not to mention that advances in video compression tend to take some of the strain out of it every 5-7 years.

  2. GG says:

    That 453GB fixed line average was the biggest surprise to me.

    I always though I used 10x the average (i’m probably ~ 1TB/month), obviously not anymore.

  3. Anthony Goodman says:

    The thing I am shocked about is why anyone has remained with them….Last year they reneged on their 321 pay as you go deal and put those prices up considerably. And now this year they have suddenly said they were tripling the cost of my contract. So both me and my entire family left them completely and went to 1p mobile.

    1. Michael says:

      My Vodafone contract has seen the biggest jump in price increase by £1.86.
      My main phone is with Three & that increase was well under £1.
      Been with Three for many years & definitely not moving again.

  4. John says:

    Definitely not in my region as all you can get from Three in west Cambs is up to 5Mbps.

  5. Nelson says:

    I used 700GB last month. My internet connection was down, so I got a Smarty (Three) SIM and their £20 monthly plan and used the phone’s wifi hotspot.

    I get between 300-600Mbps down with their 5G – way faster than FTTC – but the latency spikes during peak hours were very annoying. If it wasn’t for this, I’d buy a 5G modem and cancel my wired connection.

    But this is with 5G. Their 4G is really slow for me, I wouldn’t recommend if I couldn’t use 5G.

  6. Attila says:

    Trash network I have high end 5g network equipment and receiving both 4 5 G at full signal strength only 40 Mbps and huge lag spikes every second. Whit same device Vodafone 250 500 Mbps which has lower signal strength.

  7. Steve says:

    Annoyingly I signed up to Three mobile broadband and got 40-60Mbps in December, about three weeks after my sign up so too late to get out of the contract, my speeds are all over the place. Typically 10 but today less than 4mbps, signal strength is full bars, during the last two months there have been several times when their website is apologising for a problem in my area. Family a few miles away have a much better experience. After multiple complaints I’ve now resorted to emailing executive office.

  8. Stuart Halliday says:

    Wasn’t me!

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