If you’re based in the UK, you’re among the lucky few who can get your hands on 5G right now with Vodafone and EE now offering the service, albeit on a limited basis. O2 has also just announced when its 5G service will hit the UK.
With this in mind, we’ve collated all the key information related to 5G in the UK, including which networks currently or will soon offer it, some of the best plans now available, where to find it and more. Let’s go:
Explain 5G, again?
While we have a far more exhaustive feature explaining 5G: what it is, ‘5G’ is essentially a shorthand term for the ‘fifth generation’ of mobile network technology. This new infrastructure is set to allow for significantly faster data speeds, meaning (among other things) considerably quicker mobile browsing, as well as accommodating greater bandwidth for more simultaneous users, plus better reliability and latency.
It’s important to note that rather than serving as a completely new technology all its own, as with previous generations, it actually builds upon the foundation of 4G, consolidating multiple standards in the process.
You may have already heard companies waxing lyrical about the virtues of 5G beyond obvious gains like faster mobile browsing and streaming. For starters, it’ll allow for more reliable true wireless broadband, improved broadcasting technology, new opportunities with regards to automation across everything from manufacturing to automotive and more.
But initially, users will see much faster download speeds, enabling true movie streaming on the go, and the lower latency means onling gaming will be much more interactive and less laggy.
What’s the 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.
EE – yes, currently active
EE’s 5G network formally kicked off on May 30 this year, covering six UK cities, with more set to follow very soon. EE also happens to offer the largest selection of 5G phones from a single carrier. Read our guide to EE’s 5G services here.
Vodafone – yes, currently active
Vodafone customers also now have access to 5G as the service went live on July 3. The network is bringing a smaller range of 5G phones to the table at launch, compared to EE, with just the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G available. On the flip side, its 5G network rolls out across a larger number of cities than EE’s – seven in total. And they’re offering unlimited 5G data plans.
Three – coming in August
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 – coming in October
O2 has confirmed that it’ll be launching its 5G service in October 2019 with the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G as its flagship device.
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.
BT Mobile customers might be at the head of the pack, as it has announced it’ll be rolling out 5G later in 2019 using EE’s network
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.
Vodafone’s 5G network is live 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 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.
The first locations to see O2’s 5G network in October are Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough and Leeds. It’ll then roll out to 20 further cities in 2019 which you see below.
5G speeds – How fast is 5G UK?
It’s much faster than 4G. 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.
One of the big selling points for most mobile users is going to be the speed and latency improvements 5G promises.
We’ve been able to review 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.
- Related: Indoor 5G improvements, incoming
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. We’ve been out and about and performed a Vodafone 5G review using a Galaxy S10 5G in London and we’ve reached speeds of 200Mbps in Soho.
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.
Should you upgrade to 5G yet?
It pains us as a tech enthusiast site to say so, but the honest answer is, probably not yet. It’s very early days, coverage is currently patchy and limited to very specific parts of the country, and while there are 5G phones available – and more coming – the selection isn’t brilliant, especially if you are the owner of an iPhone – and the offerings so far are expensive.
That won’t be the case forever and when 5G matures, probably at some point next year, we’ll be the first to tell you to jump in. In the meantime, we written some further advice on why now’s not quite the time (yet) to upgrade to 5G, so take a look.
Is 5G dangerous?
No. Here’s our view on that: Is 5G dangerous? There’s currently no significant evidence that 5G is any riskier than 4G.