EE 5G Launch
Marc Allera, CEO of EE, at the launch of the 5G network

5G gathers pace in UK as EE launches first network

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Nicola Byrne

EE has won the race to become the first 5G operator, switching on superfast mobile services in parts of London, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, and Birmingham.

EE said it would introduce the mobile technology to 10 more cities throughout 2019, including:

EE 55G Cities

Map of cities EE hopes to reach with 5G in 2019/20. Click to expand

  • Glasgow
  • Newcastle
  • Liverpool
  • Leeds
  • Hull
  • Sheffield
  • Nottingham
  • Leicester
  • Coventry
  • Bristol

EE was the first to launch the 4G network in October 2012, which reportedly led to the firm’s acquisition by multinational telecommunications provider, BT, for £12.5bn in 2015.

EE expects customers on its 4G network to experience an increase in speeds of around 100-150Mbps, as the new structure is built on top of the existing 4G network and connects customers to both 4G and 5G at the same time.

Some customers will be able break 1Gbps if they purchase a 5G-capable handset. The fastest speed possible when EE launched 4G in 2012 was 50Mbps.

Customers can purchase 5G mobiles from Samsung, OnePlus, LG, and Oppo, as well as a mobile broadband device from HTC and a 5G home broadband router from Huawei.

5G will provide faster speeds and increased capacity, and has the potential to boost emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things.

What are other telecoms companies up to?

O2 has yet to reveal a specific date for its 5G launch, only confirming that it will roll out this summer with customers in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London due to be the first to benefit.

Three is overhauling its network and has committed to spending £2bn on 5G, which will involve replacing its signalling equipment. The firm has not specified a date but expects to roll out its new network this year.

Vodafone is the only other operator than EE to set a date, 3 July. The company said it will launch 5G digital innovation hubs in various locations around the UK, to explore how businesses can take advantage and implement the technology. The firm is in the process of opening a centre at MediaCity, Salford and has unveiled plans for a major new 5G facility at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Vodafone's Digital Innovation Hub Media City

Vodafone’s 5G digital innovation hub in MediaCity

5G testbeds in the UK

Liverpool’s 5G testbed, which focuses on health and social care, received extra funding in March from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media + Sport, to extend the pilot for another year. The funding from DCMS brings the total to £4.9m, which is being used to create new 5G-supported health technologies and potentially free up social care resources.

Liverpool 5G is currently working with Liverpool City Council to create a 5G network using transmitting nodes on lampposts. There are currently 80 5G nodes in Liverpool, another 175 are due to be installed by September. The network would be owned by the council.

Worcestershire 5G Consortium received £4.8m from DCMS last year to explore a range of use cases including increased productivity in manufacturing, machinery fault detection, remote training, and ‘security by design’. In February, the UK’s first 5G industrial trial took place in the Worcester Bosch factory.

The 5G Smart Tourism testbed in Bath and Bristol received £5m in 2018 to focus on enhanced experiences for tourists using Augmented and Virtual Reality, 3D motion tracking, and 4k 360° content streaming technology, in the cities’ major attractions, including the Roman Baths and Millennium Square.

5G RuralFirst received a grant of £4.3m from multinational tech firm Cisco, to create rural testbeds and trials for 5G wireless and mobile connectivity across three main sites in the Orkney Islands, Shropshire, and Somerset. In March the Me+Moo app was launched to enable users to connect with a real-life cow and receive updates about its activity straight to their phone.

AutoAir received £4.1m to make 5G technologies available for the development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at the test track in Millbrook. The project launched its 5G test network in February and demonstrated a 5G-enabled infrastructure for CAVs.

West Midlands Combined Authority secured funding in September 2018 to create the first multi-city testbed. There is £50m currently available for the project, including £25m from DCMS, and £25m from regional partners. The scheme has an initial focus on “health, construction and automotive sectors, with its overarching ambition to help drive economic growth and benefit people’s lives through participation in new digital technologies and digitally transformed public services.”

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