Mobile network EE plans to use 5G services in 16 cities in the British cities by 2019.
EE said that the first six cities that receive 5G coverage are London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester.
The coverage will not be complete: 5G is offered in the busiest parts of the six launch sites – including Hyde Park in London, Manchester Arena, Belfast City Airport, the Welsh Assembly, Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station and the Birmingham Arena. EE said it will also offer 5G services in the busiest parts of ten other UK cities: Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.
5G is the next evolution of mobile networks and could significantly increase internet access speeds for users – up to 1 Gbps versus current real-world speeds of 1 – 200 Mbps. It can also pave the way for new services such as real-time virtual or augmented reality, autonomous driving or a significant expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) usage.
But industry insiders also recognize that these more exciting applications may be a long way off; the focus in the first rollout of mobile operators will be to provide extra bandwidth to support existing 4G networks.
"We know that in 2019 5G will not be about autonomous cars, smart cities, automated factories," said Marc Allera, CEO of BT's Consumer division; instead, the focus in the short term will be on delivering very high peak data rates for mobile users and creating a consistent and reliable service that goes beyond 4G, he said.
The first 1,500 sites that upgrade EE to 5G amount to about seven percent of the total sites and cover 15 percent of the British population. However, these sites use 25 percent of all data across the network.
EE updates the transmission to 10 Gbps links on every 5G site and is currently testing the new technology at pilot sites in Canary Wharf and East London: new devices are being tested in the Borehamwood test laboratory.
EE said that the rollout of 5G is determined by the number of business and consumer customers in the busiest locations. For example, in the past three months, more than 2.1 million customers have connected to the Waterloo station, with only one site at the station registering more than 100 terabytes of data per day.
"We have chosen these sites where our customers demand the most from them," said Allera.
The UK was too late to launch 4G in 2012, Allera said. "It is great to see that the country has learned its lesson for 5G: there are groundbreaking researches and real excitement and enthusiasm about how the UK is once again the place for technological leadership."
Eradicating the network rollout is obviously a big step towards making 5G, but there are still many unanswered questions. It is not clear when the network is ready, for example – EE will only say that it will be launched in 2019. And although it states that 5G smartphones are introduced alongside a 5G home router for broadband, it is not clear whether handsets or routers arrive first. Much will depend on the maker of the smartphone and how much consumer demand there is for 5G, which in reality builds on 4G instead of adding something radical news – at least not in the first year or two.