Three launches 5G, EE complains about it

Three's marketing angers competitors over "false" 5G claims.

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Wednesday, 21 August, 2019

Three’s 5G launch has sparked instant complaints from rival networks as they claim to have the only “real 5G” in the country.

The launch of Three’s new 5G network was announced through a series of social media posts, billboards, and print ads. This is the third 5G network to go live in the UK, following EE and Vodafone.

Three may be late to the party, but they’re kicking up a big stink now that they’ve arrived.

“If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G” is the slogan they’ve plastered anywhere they can. EE lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as soon as the slogan dropped.

Three’s claim to be the only real 5G network is entirely false, and deliberately aimed at misleading consumers. Our customers have been using real 5G since we launched the UK’s first 5G network, back in May.

- EE spokesperson

It is a bold move to insult all your competitors the minute your network goes live, but that’s the line that Three is taking.

What is “real” 5G?

5G is the new wireless broadband standard, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) decide exactly what makes a network 5G. Their criteria include things like download and upload speeds, the number of connected devices, and bandwidth requirements. However, the ITU standard is still not finalised. It currently runs a sort of ‘working draft’ and the complete standard is set to be published in 2020.

Three’s claims are based on their network filling more of the ITU’s standards than EE and Vodafone.

If you look at International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards, they say to get a genuine 5G experience you need a minimum of 100MHz spectrum… Of course EE and Vodafone have launched [5G] but the reality is that, whether 100MHz is the standard or not, our 5G service uses double the spectrum and in practice that means double the capacity.

- Dave Dyson, CEO, Three

A Three spokesperson also added that: “Our advert is to inform consumers that we will offer the fastest 5G network, based on Three having three times as much 5G spectrum as any other operator.”

What does more spectrum mean?

Having more wireless spectrum lets networks connect to more devices. There are also small benefits to connection stability, but supporting more devices is the main upside.

As 5G is very new (especially for Three) and connecting to it means buying an expensive 5G phone, being able to support millions of extra devices doesn’t really benefit anyone. Ofcom will also be auctioning more of the wireless spectrum to 5G operators next year. It’s likely that all networks will have at least 100MHz of bandwidth by the time they actually need it.

The ASA is currently investigating EE’s complaint. However, complaints are notoriously slow to be resolved, so a verdict will probably come long after Three have retired the slogan.

Samuel Newman author picture


Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.