The UK’s first 5G consumer mobile network is launching tomorrow in six cities.
Mobile network operator EE will switch on the next-gen cellular connectivity in select locations in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester — promising “increased speeds, reliability and connectivity”. Though of course consumers will also need to have a 5G handset and 5G price plan, as well as being in the right location, to see any of the touted benefits.
EE says it expects customers to experience an increase in speeds of around 100-150Mbps when using the 5G network — “even in the busiest areas” where network coverage extends.
“Some customers will break the one gigabit-per-second milestone on their 5G smartphones,” it adds.
Ten other UK cities are set to get a taste of EE’s 5G later by the end of this year, also in select, busier parts — namely Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol — with more cities planned to come on stream in 2020.
While rival mobile operator Vodafone has said it will began its own rollout of a 5G network in July.
Among the advantages for 5G that EE is pushing on its website to try to persuade users to upgrade are better connections in busy places (such as festivals or stadiums); faster download speeds to support movie downloads and higher quality video streaming; and a gamer-friendly lack of lag — which it bills as “almost instant Internet connection”.
Whether those additions will convince masses of mobile users to shell out for an EE 5G device plan — which start at £53 per month — remains to be seen.
Earlier this month the network operator, which is owned by BT, launched its first 5G Sim-only handset plans, and began ranging 5G handsets — from the likes of Samsung, LG, OnePlus and Oppo.
Though not from Huawei. Last week it told the BBC it would pause on offering any 5G smartphones made by Chinese device maker Huawei — saying it wanted to “make sure we can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance” for its customers.
Huawei remains subject to a US executive order intended to dissuade US companies from doing business with it on national security grounds. And Google has been reported to have taken a decision to withdrawn some Android-related services from Huawei — raising question-marks about the future quality of its smartphones. (The Chinese company’s involvement in building out core UK 5G networks is also subject to restriction, with the government reportedly intending to impose limits.)
EE says the 5G network it’s launching tomorrow is an additional layer on top of its existing 4G network — dubbing it “phase 1”. So this switch on is really a toe in the water. Or, well, a marketing opportunity to claim a 5G first.
It describes it as a “non-standalone” deployment, saying it’s combining 4G and 5G to “give customers the fastest, most reliable mobile broadband experience they’ve ever had” — saying it’s planning to upgrade more than 100 cell sites to 5G per month, as it builds out 5G coverage.
It will also expand its 4G coverage into rural areas and add more capacity to 4G sites — as 4G will remain the fall-back option for years to come (if not indefinitely).
Phase 2 of EE’s 5G rollout, from 2022, will introduce the “full next generation 5G core network, enhanced device chipset capabilities, and increased availability of 5G-ready spectrum”.
“Higher bandwidth and lower latency, coupled with expansive and growing 5G coverage, will enable a more responsive network, enabling truly immersive mobile augmented reality, real-time health monitoring, and mobile cloud gaming,” EE adds.
A third phase of the 5G rollout, from 2023, is slated to bring Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications, Network Slicing and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds.
“This phase of 5G will enable critical applications like real-time traffic management of fleets of autonomous vehicles, massive sensor networks with millions of devices measuring air quality across the entire country, and the ‘tactile internet’, where a sense of touch can be added to remote real-time interactions,” EE suggests.
As we’ve said before, there’s little call for consumers to rush to upgrade to a 5G handset, with network coverage the exception not the rule, even as building out the touted benefits of so-called ‘intelligent connectivity’ will be a work of years.