Drawing 2020 to a close: Message from Robert Finnegan, CEO of Three UK & Three Ireland
It’s fair to say that taking on a new role as the CEO of Three UK, in addition to my role at Three Ireland, just as the nationwide lockdowns were implemented in both countries was something of a rude awakening. It’s true also that in tough times you get to see the real measure of people, and of a business. So as we approach the end of a year that almost feels cliched to call unprecedented, I thought I would share some of the top lessons I’ve learned in my nine months getting to know the business and the people at Three UK.
- The way the country’s telecoms networks stepped up to support during the pandemic would not have been possible even five years ago
There is clearly never a good time for a pandemic and this one has taken a grim toll on the people and the economy. At Three, our mission is to provide better connectivity every day, for every customer, and this year has been no different; in fact, it has been more important than ever because staying in touch with loved ones and colleagues has been paramount.
Five years ago, I don’t think telephone networks would have been ready for this huge uptick in traffic and demand for connectivity, particularly with the need, human and financial, for facetiming loved ones and video conferencing colleagues.
COVID-19 opened people’s eyes to the reality that telecoms are critical infrastructure, and the importance of being able to communicate during a crisis cannot be underestimated. We saw a 30% increase in data traffic and a 15-20% increase in voice traffic, so we put network freezes in place to ensure stability.
And that meant we were able to make sure workforces stayed connected from any location and, in turn, helped businesses remain as productive as possible.
- 5G is finally here and 2021 is the year that it’s going to really start to touch our lives
A major focus for us in 2020, and something we will continue to prioritise moving forward, is the rollout of 5G and improving our existing networks.
This year has seen 150 different configuration changes which have improved our 3G and 4G network. By rolling out VoLTE across our 4G estate we are now carrying 68% of all our voice traffic on 4G, versus 38% in June and less than 20% at the start of the year, also taking pressure off the 3G network.
Separately, 5G has now gone live in 154 towns and cities, serviced by more than 900 sites across the UK. Just this month, 5G was rolled out in major cities including Manchester, Glasgow and Reading, with Ericsson as our key provider.
We are on a par with our competitors in this respect and, according to Ookla, Three is now the UK’s fastest 5G network.
- Customer care is more important than ever
The launch of Three Store Live and Three Store Now was vital for interacting with customers while our stores were closed.
We have continued to offer market-leading tariffs and, as a result, we actually saw our customer base increase by 214,000, compared to a 59,000 increase in the same period last year (Q3 2019); nearly a four-fold jump.
Despite a decline in footfall, I don’t believe there’s a need to shift our strategy. We’ve seen online sales increase: roughly, they have accounted for 15-20% of overall sales, compared to sub-10% before the pandemic.
We will continue to enhance our offering and in-store experience to adapt to changing consumer behaviour. In fact, we have added 2,000 extra trading hours for the festive period to offer mobile deals and support when our customers need it most.
We’ll ensure our offers remain attractive and different, and not just better value. We have an opportunity here, and we want to make the most of our platform to develop innovative ideas.
- There’s a huge opportunity for Three in the business sector
It was a pleasure to welcome Mike Tomlinson to the team as Managing Director of Business. It’s a newly created role, and he is working on developing Three’s B2B presence in the UK and building on our existing SME offer and our established private networks division.
We’re continuing to recruit and we remain committed to building our team and expanding into new areas. This is a sector that requires investment, and we see significant growth opportunities. We look forward to continuing to build on our already strong base.
- Expect more from our Chelsea relationship
I’m a huge football fan so was very pleased to see such a high profile sponsorship deal in place ahead of my arrival. Chelsea is a dream partner for us and I am excited about future opportunities to come from this. Just having our logo on the shirts gets the Three brand in homes both in the UK and internationally. At peak, 6.3 million people viewed the sponsorship in November, and we have had an average 5.3 million viewings since we launched. But I’m also looking forward to partnering with Chelsea on social, community and charity efforts.
- It’s always all about the people
We, like many other businesses have faced obstacles this year, but I am proud of how Three has performed.
With a shift on the demands placed on the network, I am delighted with the team who have been able to navigate and manage these hurdles incredibly professionally and successfully.
And I look forward to 2021 with a great deal of excitement for Three, whatever the year throws at us we have the culture and connectivity to take it in our stride.