Three and Nokia launch world’s first £2bn 5G-ready cloud core network

16 July 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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Three UK and Nokia have launched the world’s first 5G-ready fully integrated cloud core network, totalling £2 billion, in preparation for Three UK’s 5G rollout.

The new 5G-ready core network sits in a virtual environment and offers increased security, flexibility and cost savings, allowing Three UK to scale more quickly and efficiently. It is also a key building block for Three to deliver the ‘UK’s fastest 5G network’ - set to launch in 25 cities across the UK in August of this year.

“Our new core network is part of a series of connected investments, totalling £2 billion, that will provide a significant step change in our customers’ experience,” said Dave Dyson (pictured), CEO of Three UK. “UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data as well as an expectation of high reliability.  We are well positioned to deliver both as we prepare for the launch of the UK’s fastest 5G network.”

“If you’re not on the cloud you’re not going to be able to do true 5G, added Tim Boyd, director of business transformation, Three UK, during the launch event.

From end to end the network has seen a complete overhaul with various workloads being carried out on various cloud environment. The Radio Access Network (RAN) is still part of the ecosystem housing Three’s Radio sites. The new telco cloud, which will serve as the virtual core network, moving onto the private cloud, which runs the latency sensitive IT applications and then the public cloud (AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure) which runs the non-latency sensitive IT applications.

In addition, the new core network will be managed from Three’s 20 new data centres across the UK to bring its 5G network closer to its customers and to deliver the lowest possible latency. Also preparing the company for the demands of edge computing. The 3 old data centres that were previously used will continue to house 3G services – after which the sites will be sold hopefully in the next 2 years, according to Boyd.

Prior to the launch, Three successfully tested its new core network with 3,500 Three employees and has started to migrate 4G customer traffic on to the new core. Migration will continue throughout 2019 with completion of both consumer and wholesale customers due for the end of the year.  

Once migration is completed, the new core network will provide enormous scalability so it can easily support the full potential increase in capacity, which comes from the combination of Three’s spectrum holdings and smart 5G technology.  

“This is an exciting time for both Nokia and Three UK, as together we work towards the future of telecommunications networks,” added Bhaskar Gorti, president of Nokia Software. “This project delivers a joint vision that has been forged from the catalyst of Three’s strategy for complete business transformation. The project will deliver a flexible 5G core network, enabling the next generation of mobile services and cementing Three UK as a true leader of 5G in the UK.”

Additionally, Nokia will also provide essential systems integration, security, and managed services capabilities as well as Nokia routing, software and mobile radio technology.

Though Nokia is at the centre of the new core, a number of other partners are providing specialist applications that run on or manage the core. These include Affirmed Networks and Mavenir which are being used as applications for traffic management and messaging respectively running on the Nokia cloud core. Three UK is also working with Exfo, Mycom and BMC for operational support system solutions, which are used to manage the Nokia cloud core and the RAN and IT systems.

In addition, the SDN layer is to be managed by Nuage from Nokia for the complete “end-to-end automation of the network,” continued Fran Heeran, senior vice president of core services & care, Nokia. “This project is a great example of collaboration; you don’t often see vendors playing together in the cloud market.”

The “industry has been too dormant and is in need of disruption,” continued Boyd. By concentrating on the complete Greenfield redevelopment of the network, IT systems and business, Boyd says that the company has reduced costs by approximately 50%.

“The reason why we chose to do this Greenfield is because looking at it, upgrading would have taken longer than starting again and brought all the legacy with it. This way we can reduce cost by 50%.”Also through the project, Three has now become one of Microsoft Azure’s “largest customers in the UK”

Interestingly the biggest challenge that came about as a result of the project wasn’t on the technology or infrastructure side of things, it was cultural.

“Due to the changing capabilities and skill-set required of the new network, much of the biggest changes were to do with changing people’s mind-set and moving away from the old way of doing things. People have a tendency to revert back to the way things have always been done – with this cloud core network we have to think differently,” said Boyd.