O2 will launch its 5G network sometime in October, making it the last of the big four mobile operators to bring their networks to market in the UK.
The operator, owned by Telefonica, announced it will launch the network in the areas where customers will benefit the most (train stations, important business areas, Twickenham Stadium etc).
The network will first be switched on in key hubs in parts of Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough and Leeds.
The upcoming launch of this network is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, not only will O2’s actual customers benefit, but as O2 acts as a virtual network operator (VNO) for other players in the mobile sector, customers signed to Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile could also stand to potentially benefit (although there is no confirmation at this stage whether these firms will offer 5G connectivity).
The second noteworthy news is that the operator has reportedly said it would not be using Huawei equipment in its 5G build out, instead opting for kit from the likes of Nokia and Ericsson.
According to the BBC, Huawei’s infrastructure has been used in some of its other Telefonica owned networks.
But it seems that O2 trialled some of Huawei’s 5G radio access network gear at cell towers in the UK, before it decided to opt for rival products from two vendors it had already used to deliver 4G.
“We respect all three operators, they were thorough in their submissions,” O2’s chief executive Mark Evans told the BBC. “But we were convinced that the best choices for us at this time are our current partners, which are Ericsson and Nokia.”
After the launch date, O2 has plans to spread its 5G network to 20 cities by the end of the year, including Bristol, Norwich and Reading.
The network will then be rolled out to 50 cities by summer 2020 including Milton Keynes, Manchester and Brighton.
“5G is going to be a game changer for our country,” said Evans. “As we switch on our network across the country, our intelligence-led roll-out prioritises the key areas in towns and cities first – the places where our customers need, and will use, 5G the most. We’re also giving our customers maximum flexibility with our industry-leading custom plans, letting people adopt 5G at a time that’s right for them.”
As part of the 5G announcement, O2 is eyeing up the business opportunities that 5G presents, and said that its new business division, O2 Business, will work with the likes of Northumbrian Water Group, which is assessing how 5G smart sensors can help proactively monitor water quality and detect and reduce leaks to reduce water waste.
O2 is also apparently in initial discussions with Network Rail around how it can support it with its 5G technology trials.
O2’s decision to go with Nokia and Ericsson, and not include Huawei is an interesting development.
Three UK is readying its 5G network for an August launch.
It should be remembered that these three mobile operators are using 5G equipment from Huawei in their networks, despite worries that its equipment may be subsequently banned on national security grounds.
And O2 could still end up using some Huawei kit, as this week O2 signed a 5G network agreement with Vodafone, that will see the two operators share sites and 5G active equipment, such as radio antennas.
The UK government said this week that it has delayed making a decision on where to ban Huawei equipment on national security grounds.
That confirmation will have annoyed the likes of Vodafone, EE, and Three, as they have been demanding that the government makes a firm decision either way.
Last week the House of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said that the next UK prime minister has to make a decision “as a matter of priority”.
The US government has repeatedly warned against using any Huawei equipment on national security grounds.
Yet in April the UK’s National Security Council (NSC) had agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the 5G network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.
Huawei has consistently denied it poses a national security risk, and in June the Chinese ambassador to the UK warned that excluding Huawei from Britain’s 5G network “sends a very bad signal” to other Chinese firms looking to invest in UK.
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