EE has become the first UK operator to launch a 5G network, after its network went live this morning in six UK cities.
The 5G enabled cities are London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast, and EE hosted an event on Wednesday evening on the river Thames with a concert by UK artist, Stormzy, near Tower Bridge, to kick off the launch.
EE has beaten Vodafone to the punch, after the Newbury-based operator revealed it would launch its own 5G network on 3 July in seven UK cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London).
EE announced that the Stormzy performance at the London Bridge concert was live streamed over EE’s new 5G network to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Fans in the other five launch cities experienced the concert via a 360-degree VR experience at EE stores in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester.
“We wanted to mark the arrival of the UK’s first 5G network with something spectacular,” explained Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer business. “Tonight, we made history, not only by becoming the first network to launch 5G in the UK – but also using 5G to live stream this event to thousands of fans across the UK. Stormzy lit up the Thames and his fans’ faces with the energy, passion and charisma that he always brings to his live shows.”
EE’s 5G network will work in conjunction with its 4G network, so that customers will connect to both 4G and 5G at the same time to get the best possible experience, even in the most crowded areas.
EE expects customers to witness an increase in speeds of around 100-150Mbps even in the busiest areas. It even predicts that some customers will break the one gigabit-per-second milestone on their 5G smartphones.
EE also intends to launch a 5GEE Wi-Fi and 5GEE home broadband package.
Whilst the 5G network will only be able in the six cities initially, EE intends to “rapidly” expand beyond the six launch cities, as more than 100 new 5G sites are being added per month.
It intends to expand the 5G network to the busiest parts of cities such as Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
More cities will follow in 2020, including Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cambridge, Dundee, Exeter, Ipswich, Norwich, Plymouth and York.
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The arrival of the first 5G networks was welcomed by experts, but they pointed out that coverage will be very limited for some time still.
“The rollout of 5G is a welcome step forward, however there’s no reason for most people to rush out and upgrade to a 5G device just yet,” said Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie.
“Coverage will remain limited for some time, and the cost of being an early adopter is high,” said Tofts. “Once more networks deploy 5G and coverage improves, the cost will fall as competition rises.”
“But while the potential of 5G is exciting we can’t forget that UK network operators still have an obligation to provide 4G signal to 95 percent of the UK by 2022,” Tofts added. “5G has a lot of promise but the operators should not lose focus on ensuring that coverage for existing technology continues to improve, especially in rural locations where mobile broadband can be used to plug the gaps in fixed line broadband access.”
Another expert also said the 5G arrival should herald the increasing uptake of IoT devices.
“In a world that becomes more connected by the minute and reliant on the infrastructure that permits that connectivity, today’s news that EE’s 5G network has now gone live in six UK cities is extremely exciting for UK business,” said Leigh Moody, UK MD at SOTI.
“Mobile is about to get faster, smoother and better with 5G,” said Moody. “It is a more capable cellular standard that has positive implications for the Internet of Things (IoT). As the demand for data increases, 5G mobile networks are set to take on a support role by connecting elements of almost every business, allowing enterprises to offer new and better services, and shape new business models.”
“Of course, the 5G rollout will bring challenges, not least to companies that will have to upgrade existing infrastructures to get the benefits,” said Moody. “As connections proliferate and ever more data crosses digital boundaries, businesses must respond to increasingly strict regulation that ensures the safety and privacy of that data. Savvy enterprises are already strategizing their use of IoT in the 5G era and acting upon those plans.”
It should be remembered that the UK is not the first to launch 5G networks.
In April SK Telecom launched what it claimed was the world’s first commercial 5G network, spanning 85 cities.
But this claim was immediately disputed American carrier AT&T, which said it had rolled out a “commercial and standards-based” 5G network (across 12 cities) in December last year.
Verizon in the US meanwhile launched its 5G network in two cities on 11 April.
Last month Vodafone installed the first 5G network in a UK train station (Birmingham New Street) and it invited commuters and travellers to test superfast speeds.
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