5G in the UK is finally here and while it’s still in its infancy, you’re only going to see and hear about it more as new networks join the fray, and the nation’s 5G infrastructure improves.
Here, you can find out about the state of 5G in the UK right now, where you’ll find the strongest signal, the best speeds and which carriers offer, or are planning on offering, 5G plans worth considering.
What is 5G, again?
If you’re in need of a refresher, in a nutshell, 5G is the latest generation of mobile network technology, promising significantly faster data speeds, better reliability and lower response times than its predecessors by a significant margin.
However, unlike older network technologies, 5G is more of a consolidation of both new and existing standards, including the current 4G LTE infrastructure too.
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Companies have already pushed the benefits of 5G beyond faster mobile browsing and streaming. 5G will allow for truly wireless broadband, better broadcasting technology, better automation and autonomy across everything from manufacturing to automotive, plus support for a greater density of connected devices, support for new classes of connected devices and a lot more.
Best 5G network
As for more conventional network use, here’s a rundown of who is (or will soon be) offering 5G in the UK.
Right now, EE is your only real choice as it’s the only carrier able to offer 5G in the UK. It officially launched its 5G service on May 30, 2019 across six major UK cities but expansion is set to be fast and extensive. It also offers the largest choice of 5G phones right now.
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Vodafone is hot on EE’s heels, promising that its 5G service will go live on July 3 in the UK. It doesn’t have as extensive a device portfolio as its leading rival but it is launching in more cities than EE initially did – seven in total.
Promising the ‘fastest’ 5G in the UK, Three has committed to an August launch date for its 5G service. However, unlike its competitors, it won’t have any phones available until much later in the year. The carrier has stated that handsets will only become available once its network rollout hits 25 cities; a milestone it’s aiming to hit before the end of 2019.
O2 has confirmed that it’ll be launching its 5G service in 2019, although, when that is exactly is a little ambiguous. The company has mentioned a summer release window, which places the launch date anytime between June 21 and September 23, this year.
It’ll initially launch its 5G in the UK across four major cities; which it calls, the ‘four corners of the UK’.
Most smaller carriers haven’t made any real statements about when they might be adopting 5G. Most MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators), like Virgin Mobile, Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile are all at the mercy of the country’s biggest carriers (i.e. EE and Vodafone), as they can only bring 5G to their customers when the networks that they piggyback off of, support it.
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Best 5G coverage – Where can I get 5G in the UK?
Similarly to the rollout of 4G, at launch, 5G is only available in very specific areas. The major carriers all seem to be focusing on the nation’s biggest cities and potential hotspots within those cities. Despite saying that a carrier’s 5G network is now active in ‘London’, for example, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use 5G everywhere in that city, at least not yet.
EE’s 5G network is currently available across six major UK cities; London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Belfast, Manchester and Cardiff. Plans to bring connectivity to ten further sites (Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield) are in place to take effect before the end of 2019.
A further ten cities are then on the cards in 2020; Aberdeen, Cambridge, Derby, Gloucester, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Wolverhampton and Worcester are all on the list.
EE’s Coverage Checker is an interactive map that lets you view the network’s current reach, showing its 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G coverage across the nation. Enter your postcode to get started.
As already mentioned, Vodafone will be launching its 5G network across seven UK cities: Glasgow, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol. With Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton also benefitting later this year.
Like EE, you can check the state of the company’s network in, including where 5G is available (once it’s launched) using Vodafone’s Status Checker.
Three hasn’t locked in a clear date for the launch of its 5G network but London is set to be the first site to benefit from the company’s 5G infrastructure when things kick off in August.
The network will then extend coverage to a further 24 cities before the end of 2019: Bolton, Birmingham, Bristol, Bradford, Reading, Liverpool, Rotherham, Glasgow, Slough, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Leeds, Brighton, Manchester, Coventry, Cardiff, Derby, Hull, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Nottingham.
It’s worth remembering that Three is initially offering up 5G as a home broadband service only, with phones appearing on the cards a little later.
O2’s ‘four corners of the UK’, which is to say, its 5G launch cities are Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.
As for elsewhere, O2 customers will have to wait until 2020. O2 says it’s waiting for ‘the wider availability of 5G handsets’ before pursuing a full 5G rollout.
5G speeds – How fast is 5G UK?
One of the big selling points for most mobile users is going to be the speed and latency improvements 5G promises.
Once networks’ 5G infrastructure is fully implemented and matured, many are hoping for theoretical 10Gbps speeds, which equates to a 100-fold increase over 4G and a 30-fold increase over LTE-A 4G.
We’ve been able to roadtest EE’s 5G network with one of the market’s first 5G phones, running the same tests all around London to get a sense of real-world 5G performance at launch.
Based on EE’s infrastructure you’ll initially be able to pull in theoretical speeds of up to 1Gbps. In the country’s capital, one of the main things our tests revealed was that, although usable 5G signal is concentrated, it proves impressively consistent when moving around; more than you might expect at this early stage.
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During our tests, we managed a peak 5G speed of 410Mbps (outdoors in Golden Square, Soho), with the slowest speed coming in at 82Mbps (inside at Canary Wharf tube station).
Much like EE, debut peak speeds are expected to reach 1Gbps in Vodafone but until we have a device and a live network to test with, we can’t comment on real-world performance from Vodafone.
Claiming to be the ‘fastest’ before you’ve even launched your 5G network is a bold play on Three’s part. The network’s confidence comes from the amount of spectrum it holds, which right now is significantly more than its competitors.
As such, it may be able to offer 5G speeds at up to 2Gbps at launch, but as has already been mentioned, that’ll only be available to its home broadband customers.
O2 hasn’t yet quoted any 5G speeds, however, a tactile infrastructure partnership with Vodafone should help speed up the rollout of its network and potentially grant O2 users similar 5G speeds to Vodafone customers.
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