back to article 97% of Three's network traffic is data

Ninety-seven per cent of the traffic carried on the Three network is data, according to a company blog posted this afternoon. Do people even make phone calls anymore? The British Telco angled themselves as a 3G data network when they started in 2003 and that's now one of their big selling points: usually offering bulkier data …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    All digital traffic is data.

    By definition, innit.

    Numptie marketards ...

    1. paulf Silver badge


      While I don't disagree, I have to ask what would make up the other 3% of their traffic if you're considering even voice traffic to be data.

      Just asking, since by your definition even signalling would be digital data.

      1. jake Silver badge


        The other 3%? Marketing bogons would be my guess ...

        Voice traffic is data within the network. The application software running on your telephone converts that data to sound in the so-called "presentation" layer of the software stack.

        Signaling is data, even out-of-bandwidth signaling. Think "control data".

        (Note where it wasn't me who claimed "97%", I was the one claiming "all".)

  2. Simon Parry

    So voice is growing too?

    Two years ago, Three were talking about the fact that data was 94% of their network ( Now, after a 427% rise in total traffic, data is 97% of the network.

    So not-data has doubled in that time period, which is pretty impressive in it's own right.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Halved as proportion of total traffic surely?

      Non-data has gone from 6% to 3%. Actual voice volumes are up but data is up more.

  3. Anonymous Coward 101

    3 get stick...

    ...for poor customer service. But I am forced to admit that they are really good for data services. I consistently get much better speed on my 3 mobile broadband at my home than I do for my Plusnet fixed home broadband (although I appreciate others have less happy stories to tell). I will move my mobile to 3 after my Voda contract runs out.

  4. Simbu

    I'd have thought...

    100% of their network traffic was data!

    1. -tim

      Isn't the lost 3% simply NAcks for lost SMS messages?

  5. Ogi

    Doesn't surprise me...

    Considering three is absolutely useless for voice calls. Sometimes I get connection errors when I try to call, sometimes others can't get to me for hours at a time, and sometimes it just cuts off a conversation mid-way with "Connection error".

    With voice performance like that, I'm not surprised 97% of their traffic is "data". You can't make a damn phone call using three.

    (Moved back to t-mobile, because despite the excellent deal w.r.t internet data, 3G is not fast enough for Voip, and I do still need to make voice calls from time to time).

    1. Rob Beard
      Big Brother

      I'm with Three and I don't find I get issues like that very often, although it's entirely possible it's down to the location, numbers of users on a cell etc. Where I work in Exeter I find that generally the service is great, although from time to time I get a good 3G signal and the data can slow down (we're right opposite a college building, seems to be an issue around lunchtime) and in the past it has dropped down to 2G. At home I get a mixture of 2G and 3G, but that's down to the location, it's the same on all the networks (just a patchy location).

      I was also under the impression that T-Mobile/Orange/Everything Everywhere and Three now do 3G/HSDPA mast sharing, it certainly seems feasable as when Three has gone down locally T-Mobile has gone down too (at work we use T-Mobile phones and USB data sticks). Strikes me as a coincidence that they go down at the same time... unless it's the local plod blocking the signal.


      P.S. Where is the black helicopers icon? Have the men in black helicopers taken that away? :-D

  6. Chemist

    Well I'm using a Three 3G dongle (Huawei E367)

    and after 2 months intermittent use in various parts of the UK I'm very impressed (and I've still got most of my data allowance left )

    Works fine on both a Linux laptop and netbook.

  7. Petey

    Yeah BUT

    This article is about NETWORK traffic. Not just DIGITAL traffic.

    Numpty commentard.

    1. jake Silver badge

      But Petey ...

      All the traffic on the network IS digital. Thus my point.

      Surely you don't think all the switch gear between your cell phone & your Auntie Flo sees analog when it comes to voice?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    97% of nothing is nothing

    One could be unkind and suggest that 97% of Three customers never get a signal, or when they do it still doesn't work...

    At least data tries to resend itself between drop-outs.

    Has anyone else heard that annoying new advert for Three smartphones with an overly modulated voiceover, clearly aimed at women with an IQ of three? It tells them not to worry about what megabytes or gigabytes mean, just sign up to Three for the mobile Internet and never worry about a thing... which isn't the best advice from a network with usage caps just as low as anyone else, and coverage patchier than Microsoft Windows' architecture.

    What happens when said 3IQ woman buys a smartphone with 8MB of RAM and tries to watch YouTube or the iPlayer 24/7? I wonder how long before this advert features on Watchdog after complaints from the target market getting cut off for not knowing what megabytes and gigabytes are, what they do and where they go...

    1. TheOtherJola

      ODFO, troll

      3 are obviously (and quite rightly) capitalising on the fact that most "Internet" bundles are as low as 500Mb (not MB) and therefore downloading just 10 MP3s on them would cause your usage to be eaten up in an instant.

      I use streaming radio on my 3 phone in the West Midlands and have, on more than one occasion, enjoyed near-100% coverage whilst driving from central Birmingham all the way up to Lincoln and back, with only a bit of packet loss - the UI showed me, but the buffered shoutcast audio didn't stutter once.

      Also I've just been driving around while holding a Skype call (over data) with me sending video to the other party, and the call only dropped as I pulled up at home and my phone abandoned my data connection in favour of Wifi.

      You clearly aren't a customer of 3, and one wonders if you are the same Anonymous Coward as the one who still has a Sony Ericsson T610...

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

          Why the fuck are you on 3 with so many different devices if the signals cack?

          Are you a complete muppet?

    2. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT) Silver badge

      Usage caps?

      I was under the impression that this advert was for the One Plan, which offers (according to the contract I have in front of me) unlimited data. No fair use limits, no little star to indicate a tiny-print footnote, nothing. Actual unlimited data.

      As for patchy signal, yes the indoor signal is not as good as other carriers because 3G signal is not as good as 2G at penetrating solid objects, and unlike most carriers, Three has no 2G backup. That said, I can make calls quite happily from pretty much everywhere (though I realise others experience may vary).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @TheOtherJola — "one wonders if you are the same Anonymous Coward as the one who still has a Sony Ericsson T610"

        No, and I've never owned a T610. Suggesting I'm a troll for claiming that voice calls on Three are as reliable as the security of a Civil Servant's USB stick is about as barmy as suggesting I'm a troll because I reckon from the heresay of friends, colleagues, BBC Watchdog, and numerous other pieces of the jigsaw, that bears shit in the woods.

        @Rameses Niblick the Third — "I was under the impression that this advert was for the One Plan"

        Why would you be under that impression? The adverts make no references to any plan, they just say to join Three and never worry about a thing. The target audience for these adverts is clearly not the kind to look into tariffs or options — They just want to walk into a shop and buy whatever Three phone they like the look of. Probably a pink one.

        I just went onto a few obvious websites (including Asda) and looked up the Three phones. All the ones I saw came with a 1GB/month cap. Really, I think you already answered my question when you said "according to the contract I have in front of me". You're the kind of person who looks into this stuff before you buy, and then actually *reads* your own contact! I bet you know "What are bytes and megabytes and gigabytes? What are they for and where do they come from?", and don't have the attitude of "Who knows and frankly who cares!".

        Come on, you're clearly not the person they're aiming at with that 'happy ending for dummies' advert, and you can see how the target punter is all too likely to buy a Three phone from Asda and hit their 1GB/month cap within the first week, due to the novelty of watching sneezing pandas on YouTube and Big Brother in bed from Channel 5's website.

  9. HP Cynic

    The All-you-can-eat data plans can be thanked for this ratio, I just left O2 for an unlimited data service myself (GiffGaff) and the O2 operator sounded quite sad "Unlimited data? Oh, that's something we just can't match".

    I expect either more of the providers will become more generous with their data, or Three/GiffGaff will be forced to implement limits as their capacity is swallowed up.

    1. Anonymous Coward 101

      One thing the iPhone can be thanked for is that it finally forced networks to offer more data with their contracts. A few years ago, I had a Nokia E65 that was never used for the internet because the contracted data was just 100Kb (yes, kilobytes) per month, after which it went to silly money per Mb. Now I get 500Mb inclusive data with Voda, but's it still isn't enough to give me comfort to use my phone a great deal when on the bus.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. Magnus Ramage

      That would be GiffGaff which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of O2 and runs as an MVNO on their network? They're pretty impressive, and I will probably shift to them (from 3, as it happens) in due course as they now allow tethering on low-cost data plans and don't charge the earth for voice calls. But they're not as independent as they like to make out.

  10. I understand now

    Unsure how they quantify this. Utilisation time? Bandwidth usage?

    Either way would give data a bias.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    There voice service is so crap...

    ....nobody uses it.

    1. JohnG Silver badge


  12. amck

    How much of the data is Skype

    Or other voice?

    One of the main uses of my 3G modem is skype and other voice calls, when at relatives beyond broadband or in hotels with non-free broadband.

    1. Soruk

      Skype on Three

      From a Skype-enabled handset, data is ony used for the call set-up and presence information, the voice is carried over a call to a special phone number that ischarged as a free call - and the data used is free too.

      Of course, using the generic (not Three's) Skype app on a smartphone or on a computer with a 3G dongle, Skype uses data for everything, and is charged as per your data plan.

      (Posted over 3's network using a Skype-enabled handset, tethered...)

  13. ChrisInAStrangeLand

    The problem isn't spectrum shortage, it's spectrum hoarding and stranded capacity.

    Huge amounts of spectrum are carved up and monopolized, and sit idle with no incentive to share with a provider that's swamped.

  14. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    3 Rocks!

    My favourite Telco by far!

    I switched to them from 02 three years ago, wont go back! O2 wouldn't budge at the time in giving data to customers unless they had an iphone.

    So after 18 month contract with 3, I bought an iphone outright with the savings made and then switched to a 1month contract, which 3 New Dehli screwed up, instead of costing me £10 a month it costs me £5 a month.... for 2 gig of data, 3000txts and 100mins. I don't plan on leaving any time soon lol

    At £60 a year I'm saving easily £300 over a typical iphone contract, handy considering i'm a poor Cooncil workie who doesn't know if he'll have a job from month to month.

  16. Andrew Barr

    I thought 3 piggy backed off another network for their Voice and their network was purely 3G for data ?


    1. TheOtherJola

      Not any more.

      They don't roam with any other UK network now. All its infrastructure is its own.

  17. Tom 38 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    <3 Three

    I use gigabytes of data per month on Three, I've had constant 3G signal in most places I've been with it, from London to the deep south-west. I get good signal inside my flat (E15) and inside my office (EC4), and I'm currently synching a couple of new albums to my phone from spotify over 3G.

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  18. Purlieu


    This only shows that data traffic consumes more bandwidth than voice traffic.

  19. Michael Strorm


    "This article is about NETWORK traffic. Not just DIGITAL traffic. Numpty commentard."

    Oh, okay. You mean all that non-digital call traffic Three are sending over their nonexistent analogue phone network? (*)

    And yeah, I know what you *think* you meant, but you obviously missed the OP's point. All calls sent over present day mobile networks *are* in the form of digital data.

    "Numpty commentard"... oh, the irony. Are you really that clueless, or have I just been trolled?

    (*) The last analogue mobile phone network in the UK was switched off over 10 years ago, and Three weren't even around then.

  20. Steve Evans


    Hardly a surprise given 3 are unique in the UK market for offering a real unlimited data connection, and on a £25 a month tariff. Orange's best is 1gig a month!

    I'm on the verge of switching.

    1. clarknova
      Thumb Up

      £10 on PAYG for unlimited data....

      Giff Gaff provide truly unlimited mobile data, costs me £10 monthly for a PAYG sim which I have set to automatically topup. 250 minutes, 500 texts and unlimited data.

      I don't think any other provider can beat that.

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I wish 3 would improve their coverage. I live and work in Cambridge, and the signal is terrible.

  22. IR

    Doesn't it make more sense now to offer a data package and then pay extra for calls rather that the other way round?

  23. SteveB

    Bait and Switch

    It's a shame therefore that Three is the only major network not offering data bundles for overseas roaming (see for details of every other network's offerings). So you get used to using data all the time at home and land a big bill when you're on holiday.

    Bait and Switch tactics, anyone?

    1. TheOtherJola

      Hotel wifi, anyone?

      Disable roaming, hook yourself up to public wifi while abroad ... voila, no bill.

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  24. boony

    Voice & Data Clarification

    Just to help clarify a couple of posts here, the figure of 97% is IuPS (Data) traffic as opposed to IuCS (Voice). These are reference architecture on a 3G network. If you wish to read the standards (including LTE and LTE Advanced), they are owned by this standards body

    Definately no analogue going on though :o)

    1. jake Silver badge

      Indeed, boony.

      I first had access to Ma Bell's still analog circuits when I was a summer intern at Bell Labs in 1975 or thereabouts ... Most folks (even ElReg regulars) have absolutely zero idea how something as simple as their telephone infrastructure works.

      The 97% is still incorrect, though. Marketing should shutup and let the techies get on with reality.

  25. TRT Silver badge


    phoned me up at work yesterday afternoon, asking if I was interested in Smartphones or Android phones. I had to tell them I wasn't interested. Now if they wanted to sell me a device that simply made and received phone calls and SMS... bonus if it has MiFi (tm) or a Bluetooth modem, I'd be interested. Seems you can't get a simple, small talky handset anymore. :(

  26. JS001

    Terrible customer service at Three compared to O2.

    Data is excellent during the morning to mid-afternoon. Three then seems to throttle bandwidth it mid-afternoon through to the night.

    Bandwidth is nevertheless much better than O2.

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