Vodafone and O2 unexpectedly team up to speed up UK 5G network rollout

Vodafone and O2 have unexpectedly joined forces to bring 5G to the UK as soon as possible.

The two companies have decided to share 5G active equipment on joint network sites across the country as part of efforts to bring faster network speeds to the UK, well, faster. The two claim that their alliance will help to build a competitive digital economy (or allow them to keep up with EE) and encourage the creation of innovative new services to make the most of 5G’s speed and reliability.

Related: What is 5G?

“This agreement will enable us to roll-out 5G faster and more efficiently, benefiting customers while delivering value for our business,” said Telefónica UK CEO Mark Evans.

Sharing physical equipment will allow the networks to reduce their impact on the environment and to take money usually reserved for rollouts and pour it into other services to give more back to their customers. Costs could also potentially drop for consumers with more 5G network options to pick from competing on the market.

Vodafone and O2 have also agreed to increase 5G network autonomy on 2700 sites across 23 of the UK’s biggest cities. This means that – including the already announced sites in London  a quarter of the UK’s 5G sites will be autonomous by the time this process is complete.

If you’re a little confused about what is meant here by ‘network autonomy’, you’re not alone. “When we mention network autonomy/autonomous sites this relates to sites where each party has full control of the active assets and is not dependent on the other party to manage upgrades, operation or maintenance of the site”, a spokesperson for Telefónica told Trusted Reviews.

Each company plans to install its own radio equipment, fibre ‘backhaul’ connection and power supply but the physical mast will be split between them. Halving the number of masts needed for two networks is expected to cut down on 5G’s environmental impact while speeding up the process of making 5G widespread across the country.

“We’re driving our 5G roll-out forward with this agreement, and taking our customers, our business and the whole of the UK with us,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. “We can boost capacity where our customers need it most so they can take full advantage of our new unlimited plans.”

Related: 5G phones

This isn’t the first time the two companies have teamed up. A spokesperson for Vodafone told Trusted Reviews that they “already share around 16,000 masts with O2 for 2G, 3G and 4G. O2 looks after the East and us the West of the UK”.

He continued to explain that “under this new agreement, for 5G, we will only share the actual steel physical masts (known as passive sharing) in 23 cities (plus London giving 24). This allows us to install our own kit (the 5G antennas, fibre links) to meet customer demand. In other words, we can add higher speeds and capacity without having to rely on the other party. This important in busy areas of high demand. Outside of these 24 cities, we’ll share both 5G antennas (known as active sharing) and masts (passive sharing) on a reciprocal basis”.

Vodafone has actually already launched its 5G network but this deal will allow it to reach more phones in the UK faster, with O2 following hot on its heels.

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