EE launched its 5G network in six cities in the UK today. The commercial launch has been rolled out in London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester. It will then be launched in 10 additional cities later this year – including Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
5G technology is the next generation of mobile network and is expected to offer internet speeds several times that of current generation 4G.
Marc Allera, chief executive at EE, emphasised that 5G would not replace 4G, but be an “additional layer” on top of it.
“5G will create new experiences with augmented reality, make our customers’ lives easier, and help launch entirely new businesses that we haven’t even imagined,”
“EE is upgrading more than 100 sites to 5G every month, and the company won’t be throttling 4G to make 5G look faster”
The launch of 5G in Europe has been overshadowed by the debate about the role of Huawei in the industry. EE, alongside all the UK networks, has continued to use Huawei equipment in its radio access network although it has, along with Vodafone, paused the launch of 5G handsets from the company as a result of the export ban placed on the supplier by the US government.
However, EE’s launch partly allays fears that Huawei’s problems could delay 5G’s arrival in Europe.
EE was also the first to launch 4G in the UK, which gave it a competitive advantage over its main rivals and ultimately led to the £12.5bn acquisition of the company by BT. It has moved to push ahead with 5G as BT works to put network investment — both fibre and 5G — at the heart of its strategy.
The launch is limited to certain parts of six of the UK’s largest cities, where it will be key to alleviating data congestion. EE expects to add about 100 new sites per month as it expands the network but expects consumer take-up to be gradual.
The variant of 5G that has been launched in effect shares a signal with 4G networks. A full standalone version of the new network will not be available until 2022, with a more advanced version offering ultra-reliable low-latency signals not coming until 2023, according to EE.
Roughly 450,000 EE customers have registered their interest in upgrading to a 5G handset, with about 1,500 shipped on Thursday.
About 100 customers flocked to St Pauls in London on Thursday morning to get a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G handset. EE is charging a premium of about £5 for 5G packages but will bundle in content including BT Sports and Netflix to justify the extra cost.
The OnePlus 7 Pro 5G is available from EE via ee.co.uk, in-store, and telesales from today, in Nebula Blue with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB ROM. Pricing plans start at £59 or a 30GB plan for £69 per month and £50 upfront.
Vodafone has said it will not charge a premium compared with its top-level 4G packages.
Initial tests by Rapid Mobile using the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G handset in central London showed speeds of up to 420 Mbps compared with 16.3 Mbps on a 4G handset.
Vodafone is to launch 5G in the UK next month and O2 is also working on its 5G capabilities but appears to be lagging behind the other two in terms of established infrastructure and clear plans.
It said in February it will launch 5G in the UK at some point this year. It has yet to elaborate on this. It also intends to start in just four places, earmarking the capital cities of the UK nations -Belfast, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh.