Senior network, operations and IT execs leave Three UK

Operator sees exodus of senior technical staff.

Three UK has lost two senior veteran network leads, as well as an operations manager working a contract to support its RAN swapout*. They follow the departure a month ago of a long-standing IT Director who was overseeing the integration of network and IT teams.

Phil Sheppard, a 19 year veteran and most recently Technology Strategy and Architecture Director, announced his departure today on LinkedIn. TMN understands he left his position in December.

Sheppard was often used as a spokesperson by Three on network and 5G matters and has had responsibility for Network Strategy since 2010, adding Architecture to the role since 2014.

Graham Marsh, Director of Core Technology, had said on Friday (31 January) that he had left. Neither man announced much in the way of new roles, with Sheppard saying he had some holidays planned and would move into consultancy. Marsh lists himself as a self-employed Director and Founder of Infinite Potential.

The departures come as Three received a setback to its 5G RAN plans as the UK government imposed 35% caps on the number of 5G base stations and volume of traffic that Huawei equipment can serve in any one network. That will require a shift of direction for Three, which has to this point made a heavy bet on Huawei in its 5G RAN.

Last year Three said that Huawei would be its sole 5G RAN vendor, and it has been rapidly swapping 4G sites over to Huawei, with some sites also having Huawei 5G added. It said in November that it had swapped over 1800+ sites, a number that probably now sits nearer 2,000.

The number of sites upgraded to 5G so far will be well below the Government caps. Three originally wanted a “5G presence” in 25 towns by the end of 2019, but said in November it would delay launch until Q1 2020. Its November statement said that the reasons for the delay were several: “There are a number of parts we need to put in place to deliver our 5G experience: 5G equipment on masts, the right backhaul transmission, as well as the need to acquire the right planning permissions from landlords. Added to this we also need to move all of our customer traffic onto the world’s first 5G cloud core network. Some of these components are more time consuming and complex than others, and, as a result, our 5G roll out is slightly behind our original plan.”

As Core network lead, Marsh would have been working on Three’s move to a cloud core, supplied by Nokia. This shift involved a move to an all software, cloud-native, 4G and 5G NSA core, as well as the deployment of edge data centres in hosted locations. Three is also involved in a wider move of operations software to the cloud.

Three suffered a widely-publicised outage in October 2019 as it experienced issues with an element in its legacy 3G core.

Andy Steele, Director of IT Architecture and Solutions, with 14 years at the operator, also left recently – departing in December 2019. His LinkedIn profile said he has been, “Leading a function of over 50 people, accountable for the IT estate supporting Three’s 10+ million customer base, covering back office systems, channels, data centre infrastructure and corporate IT.” He has also, “Completed the full Operating Model design for the technology Strategy & Architecture centre of excellence to bring together network and IT architecture teams under one function and common framework.”

Operational Service Transition Manager, Kevin Howley, is another out the door, announcing his departure on the same day as Marsh. Howley’s LinkedIn profile describes his role as “Supporting the Delivery of the 4G swap out programme”, referencing the programme to swap out Samsung for Huawei. Unlike the others, Howley is a relatively recent starter at Three, only joining in May 2019 from EE, although he had worked previously at Three/EE network services JV MBNL and also with Ericsson, MBNL’s managed services provider.

(*This intro has been modified to reflect the comment Howley added to this article. Howley says that he was not senior management, and left because his short term contract ended.)


( In response to requests for comment from TMN on the Sheppard and Marsh departures, Three issued the following statement.)

“We can confirm that Phil Sheppard and Graham Marsh have both left Three. After 19 and 17 years respectively, both have decided to pursue new challenges. We’d like to thank them for their contributions to Three and wish them all the best in their future endeavours. Replacements for both roles will be announced in due course. 

We are in the process of a wholesale transformation of Three’s network and IT systems in order to create a truly digital telco of the future. Our employee structure continues to change and evolve to support this ambition.”



You really should get some facts before printing. I am neither senior management, nor leaving as part of restructure. My exit is purely coincidental as was working on a short term contract!

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