Mobile operator EE (BT) has today named the first UK cities to benefit from their commercial roll-out of ultrafast multi-Gigabit capable 5G mobile and wireless home broadband technology, which is due to begin later next year. Naturally London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast are on the list.
At present EE and Vodafone have already begun early network trials of the new network using the 3.4GHz band, although the lack of supporting 5G capable Smartphones has meant that initially these are only focused on 1Gbps+ capable fixed wireless broadband ISP style connections for homes and businesses (here and here).
Sadly most of the necessary radio spectrum bands and hardware won’t be completely ready for commercial launch until 2020, although both EE and Three UK (here) have said that they expect to begin the commercial roll-out of 5G services in 2019. Today EE has also gone one step further by announcing which areas will be the first to benefit and it’s an unsurprising list.
Overall 16 cities have been listed and the first six of those to see the new service under Phase One include London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. EE’s initial deployment will target the “busiest parts” of these cities including London’s Hyde Park, Manchester Airport, Edinburgh Waverley train station, Belfast City Airport, The Welsh Assembly and Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre.
Indeed it’s noted that the first 1,500 sites to benefit currently carry 25% of all data across the whole network, but only cover 15% of the UK population. “EE is upgrading to 5G where it can make the biggest difference to the most people,” said the operator.
EE’s First 16 5G Cities
Unlike the current trials, EE said that their commercial deployment will also launch 5G mobile services via “multiple smartphone partners,” although they also intend to launch a new EE 5G Home router with external antenna and that will be used to “showcase the power of 5G” for broadband connectivity to individual premises.
Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division, said:
“Adding 5G to the UK’s number one 4G network will increase reliability, increase speeds, and keep our customers connected where they need it most. This is another milestone for the UK and for our network journey – we’ll keep evolving as we move to one, smart network for our customers. We have an ambition to connect our customers to 4G, 5G or WiFi 100% of the time.”
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, added:
“I want London to be the world’s leading smart city and 5G expansion is at the heart of this ambition – it is good news for Londoners, innovation, and business. At City Hall we are working hard right across the capital to ensure we have the network infrastructure needed through our new Connected London programme. EE’s ambitious investment in 5G sites demonstrates that our city is a great place to invest in innovative and future-facing digital connectivity.”
According to the blurb, BT’s Technology team is virtualising elements of the core network for the 5G rollout, and is building a next generation 5G core in line with the next stage of global 5G standards, with virtualised network functions on a cloud native infrastructure.
BT’s 21CN backbone network is also said to be Petabit-class, which is important because the new connections will be much more data hungry than before. In keeping with that EE are upgrading their network to support 10Gbps links (e.g. fibre optic) at “each 5G site“, and they’ve already tested these via their trial sites in Canary Wharf and across East London.
The fact that EE will make a play for the home broadband market, which has traditionally been the domain of fixed line ISPs, would seem to support the above expectations. But in order to be taken seriously they’ll have to offer home users something akin to affordable “unlimited” usage, just like fixed line services (it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll do that).
Meanwhile EE have said that they are still upgrading their 4G network too and the busiest sites will soon have access to five carriers of 4G spectrum (bands), supporting the new 5G spectrum and making them the highest speed sites of any UK operator in 2019.