Monday 2 July 2018 3:35 pm

Three UK chief exec Dave Dyson: Company focused on creating ‘genuine customer experiences’, not ‘hypothetical’ 5G launches

Reporter at City A.M. covering marketing, media, telecommunications and pensions.

Reporter at City A.M. covering marketing, media, telecommunications and pensions.

In the race for 5G connectivity, many would assume that fast, and first, is best. But the head of one of the UK’s biggest mobile operators says he is not concerned with being first to the party when it comes to rolling out the faster network for consumers.

Dave Dyson, Three UK chief executive, says his company is focussed on ensuring network infrastructure is capable of providing consumers with a reliable, high quality service, rather than trying to roll out 5G connectivity as quickly as possible.

"Being first doesn’t matter to me," he says. "What matters is that when we do launch 5G we give customers a reason to join us. We won’t be out this year making claims about a 5G launch, which some operators have done.

"But we will spend between now and the middle of next year making sure whatever we launch has the right quality of service."

Rival EE has already said it plans to kick start 5G trials across 10 sites in London by October. However, when asked about the trials, Dyson plays down the announcement as nothing more than "a PR exercise".

"We're a small business so we have to be a little more targeted about the people in the business,” he continues. "I'd rather they spend their time building genuine customer experiences than hypothetical launches.”

Three’s acquisition of spectrum from Qualcomm and its takeover of UK Broadband, as well as its success at April’s spectrum auction, has put it in a strong position in the 5G race.

Unlike other telcos, Three’s large amount of 5G spectrum means this is an area which is set to yield big returns in the future.

"There's more spectrum to come in next year’s auction but right now we have the biggest portfolio so we’re quite comfortable with where we’ve got to; 70 per cent of our spectrum is 5G, which clearly indicates that strategically we should be focused more on 5G than 4G.

"The other operators have it reversed, and have spent so much money on 4G I’d assume they want to get a bit more of a return on that before they start investing heavily on 5G."

This is not the first time Three has claimed to take a different approach to the rest of the industry. In May, Three, which was the UK’s first 3G operator in 2003, said it would halt the sale of phones that support the technology.

The firm owns about 36 per cent of Britain’s mobile data, but in the UK has lagged behind the likes of bigger telcos like EE, Vodafone and O2, despite its innovative approach.

While the rollout of 5G will be good news for Three, Dyson warns that dealing with the wealth of technological changes it will bring could prove challenging for the business.

"New technology will have a knock on impact in terms of processes and capabilities and has a big impact on how you operate, and risks affecting stability if it’s not managed well.

"We're not worried about competitive threats, it’s more how we manage as best we can the things that are in our control."

Despite its failed takeover of O2 in 2016 Dyson says he does not have his eyes on any future acquisitions, but is looking to grow organically.

"We tried to grow through acquisition with O2, but now we need to organically grow as a business because we need scale in an environment when you have high levels of fixed costs," he says.

But he doesn’t rule out any potential mergers or acquisitions in the near future. "Growing organically opens up opportunities for us to be bought or for us to buy someone else," he adds. "Right now the number one concern is growing organically and improving the business model."

Dyson later says there is a lot UK telcos can learn from the likes of tech giants such as Netflixand Uber, as he argues telcos needed to take a more standardised approach to the technology they used.

"We're all working with IT that is 15 to 20 years old, incredibly complicated and not digitised for today’s environment," he argues.

"Telcos in the past have taken IT and massively customised it. The standard gets refreshed on a regular basis so we need to take a more typical cloud approach to things in the same way Netflix and Uber do.

"These companies have a lot of money, but they also have the discipline to see that to be agile you have to operate in a certain way."

With the commercial launch of 5G expected in 2030, it’s clear that how the big four deal with and roll out 5G will be central to their future success. Dyson admits there is plenty to do to drive Three into pole position.