EE rolls out first live 5G trial in London ahead of 2019 consumer launch

What is 5G? With the UK’s next-gen mobile network’s spectrum auction now complete, tests well underway, and the first commercial launches set for 2019, we reveal all about 5G vs 4G and the future of mobile connectivity.

It’s not long now until we’ll be seeing 5G phones hit shelves in the UK, US, and all over the world. The already launched Moto Z3 Play, for instance, will be getting a 5G-enabling Moto Mod in early-2019, while next year’s eagerly anticipated Galaxy S10 is expected to be among the first devices to ship with a 5G-ready modem (likely the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50). Many other manufacturers, including OnePlus, Huawei and Xiaomi, have teased similar plans.

Furthermore, the international standards organisation 3GPP has now defined the ‘Release 15’ 5G standard, which means everyone now has a shared goal for which technology to implement. In the UK, the 5G spectrum auction is now a distant memory, meaning that the likes of EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 have purchased the network capacity to support the next generation of mobile services and are beginning to figure out how they’ll deploy it.

Read on for everything you need to know about 5G in the UK.

Latest 5G UK News: EE switches on live 5G trial in London

EE has claimed the latest scalp in the UK 5G wars, announcing that it has launched real-life trials of the next-gen network in London’s Canary Wharf.

Utilising Huawei kit and a slice of the 3.4GHz spectrum it claimed at the 2018 Ofcom 5G auction, the exact location is Montgomery Square in E14, which was selected because of its high footfall – on average, some 150,000 people pass through it every day.

“This is the latest milestone in our 5G rollout – a live test of our 5G network, in a hugely busy ‘hotspot’, where we know there’s going to be demand from customers for increased mobile capacity. With constant upgrades to 4G, and laying the foundations for 5G, we’re working to always be able to deliver what our customers need – both consumers and the vertical industries that will make the greatest use of 5G,” commented Fotis Karonis, 5G Technology Lead at BT Group.

Later this month, EE is to due to fire up 10 more live 5G tests in another busy part of the capital – east London’s ‘Tech City’ cluster – with all the ongoing work building towards eventual 5G commercial rollout in 2019. The exact date remains undisclosed at this time.

Rival network O2 is hot on its heels and is due to commence its own real world 5G trials at a number of locations, including the O2 Arena.

What is 5G?

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If you’re in the UK, you’re probably using a mobile phone with 4G internet – or 3G, if you’re in the sticks. Simply put, 5G is the name for the next big leap in mobile connectivity.

Currently, numerous phone networks, device suppliers and governments around the world are hard at work trying to figure out a good way to deliver next-generation mobile internet, and we still haven’t seen exactly how it will be implemented at scale, though as we’ve just said, live testing is now underway on a limited scale.

One thing we do know is that you’re going to need a new phone to take advantage of the new technology. 5G is a big jump, and that means phones will need new modem chips to connect to it. Qualcomm is expected to be at the forefront of this, with the release of its long-awaited 5G Snapdragon X50 modem scheduled for late-2018/early-2019. This will pave the way for handset manufacturers, especially Android ones, to release their first fully 5G-ready devices.

 

How fast is 5G? 5G vs 4G speeds compared

In practice, this next generation of mobile networks will lead to much faster mobile speeds, theoretically raising them to be able to deliver over 1Gbps. Network latency should also be reduced down to a theoretical 1ms from 45ms on 4G.

Exact speeds will vary based on which technology ends up being implemented. Samsung says it’s managed to achieve 7.5Gbps, while Nokia claims a more impressive 10Gbps. There’s also Huawei, which has managed 3.6Gbps.

When you compare that to the best speeds in the UK – EE’s 300Mbps LTE-A network – then we could be talking about a 12-fold speed increase. Of course, actual real world performance will vary. As anyone who’s ever used a 4G phone can attest, you’re never going to get the full 300Mbps that the standard is technically capable of due to a combination of signal strength and the amount of load on the network.

Related: Best Android phones

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Is it all about download speeds?

Not quite, it’s also expected to usher in lower latency. Latency, or lag, is the time it takes for the item you’re trying to download to actually start downloading. For instance, when you press play on Netflix, there’s a very short delay before the content begins to stream to your device.

Latency will be very familiar to gamers, where the concept can have a far more significant impact. When you perform an action in a multiplayer game, the lag is the delay between you hitting a button on your keyboard and the game server actually receiving that command. So 5G on mobile will hugely improve latency – possibly to the point where serious online gaming using your phone connection would become a reality.

There are obvious advantages for consumer use, but the implications for the ‘internet of things’ could end up being far more profound. Driverless cars currently do all of their processing on-board, but the low latency allowed by 5G could mean that essential information could be quickly transmitted in order to prevent accidents.

When will 5G actually launch in the UK?

In the UK, 5G is expected to see a widespread rollout by 2020 and it looks like we’re progressing towards this milestone very nicely. ‘Release 16’ of the 5G standard is due to be revealed in December , which paves the way for operators to start delivering the service to customers next year. In fact, all of the major UK mobile networks have revealed their 5G testing plans, and most are saying they’ll be ready to launch in 2019.

However, while it won’t surprise you to hear that the mobile networks are getting very competitive with their rollouts, it’s important to note that whatever ends up being released first is likely to offer a fraction of the functionality of what 5G will eventually be capable of. All that matters is whether buying a new handset too early will lock you out of new features when they’re eventually released, and for that we’ll have to wait and see what happens in 2019 and beyond.

Still, from all these developments, it’s clear that each major provider is treating 5G very seriously indeed – and that’s ultimately going to be good news for consumers itching to stream Netflix that little bit faster.

Just don’t hold your breath for it happening just yet.

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