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EE reveals which 16 UK cities will get 5G first − but there’s a catch

EE has announced that it will switch on 5G in 16 UK cities in 2019.

The company is yet to reveal any specific dates, but says the launch will be split into two phases. The first 5G launch cities will be London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Manchester and Birmingham.

It will then switch on sites in 10 more cities: Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.

Read more: What is 5G?

However, EE’s 5G network won’t cover the entirety of these cities − not right away, at least. Instead, the mobile network says it has adopted a “demand-led” strategy, focusing on very specific areas “where the need is greatest”.

For instance, in the six initial launch cities, EE says it will first focus on bringing 5G to London’s Hyde Park, Manchester Arena, Belfast City Airport, the Welsh Assembly, Edinburgh Waverley train station and Birmingham’s Bullring.

“We’ll be doing this in the busiest areas of the UK’s busiest cities,” said Marc Allera, the CEO of BT’s consumer division, at a briefing attended by Trusted Reviews.

“And how we measure busy-ness is based on the number of customers we connect in those places and the amount of data our customers are using on our 4G network.”

EE 5G cities uk map

Image Credit: EE

To put these plans into action, EE, which has been trialling 5G in Canary Wharf and parts of East London, says 1500 of its sites need to be upgraded in 2019.

These sites represent “significantly less” than 10% of EE’s site portfolio and will help cover just 15% of the UK population, Allera said, but according to EE, a whopping 25% of all data across EE’s entire network is consumed at these locations.

“When we think about measuring coverage and experience, today we measure our customers’ time that they actually spend on 4G. We don’t believe population coverage and geographic coverage are going to be very useful metrics when we think about how we measure 5G in years to come,” said Allera.

For people who live in rural areas, where 4G coverage is still poor, EE said it is still focusing on expanding 4G coverage and capacity. However, Allera said he believes rural areas “need more coverage, not more capacity.”

Read more: Best 5G smartphone

He also reiterated EE’s aim to be the first 5G provider to launch in the UK, ahead of its biggest rivals. Earlier this year, O2 said that “Any UK operator launching ‘5G’ before 2020 would be using a ‘lite version’” of the technology, but Vodafone and Three have − along with EE − confirmed plans to switch on 5G in 2019.

“We’d love to be first,” Allera said this morning, speaking about EE’s 5G plans. “We’ll do everything we can to be first.”

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