15m Brits would switch to 5G now

(Image Credit: Huawei)

As many as 15 million smartphone users in the UK are willing to switch to a 5G network, according to a new report which also adds strength to predictions that adoption of next generation networks will be modest this year.

After years of hype and development, commercial 5G services have gone live in the USA and South Korea offering a mixture of mobile hotspot and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband services.

Mobile broadband services will arrive in the second half of this year once the first tranche of compatible devices, detailed at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week, hit the shelves.


The GSMA believes one in seven mobile connections will be 5G by 2025 and says 16 more markets will be connected in 2019. This includes the UK, where all four operators have confirmed plans to launch in 2019.

Although 5G networks will eventually deliver ultrafast speeds, greater capacity and ultra-low latency, initial rollouts in the UK will be limited to the busiest parts of major cities. Meanwhile, investments in 4G infrastructure mean Europe isn’t suffering the same data crunch as other parts of the world – accelerating the move to 5G.

Meanwhile, 5G pricing in the UK has yet to be revealed, but it is generally thought they will command a small premium compared to 4G. All of this means adoption in the UK will be slower than the move from 3G to 4G.

“The adoption rate for 5G in the UK is likely to be slower than for 4G, largely as the UK may be amongst the first countries to see 5G launched across all operators,” said Paul Lee, head of research for technology, media and telecoms at Deloitte.

“By contrast, the first 4G launch was in 2009, but it was not until 2013 that all UK operators had launched their networks. Whilst sales of 5G handsets sold in the UK this year will be modest - just tens of thousands – the roll-out of 5G will be a multi-year project and it will take some time before the full extent of the new capabilities of 5G are demonstrated and proficiently marketed by vendors.”

5G ready market

According to Deloitte, 5.8 million (12 per cent of smartphone users) in the UK are prepared to use a 5G service as soon as it becomes available. Meanwhile another 9.2 million (19 per cent) say they would switch if they heard good things about 5G.

Analysts predict that just one million out of 1.5 billion smartphones sold worldwide in 2019 will be 5G compatible. This figure drops to just 50,000 in the UK – although it is thought this will grow to between two and three million in 2020.

This will come as no surprise to operators waiting for potential use cases to emerge and for coverage to expand, but they will be encouraged by the potential market size in the UK.

“Fundamentally, the UK is a 5G-ready nation,” added Dan Adams, head of telecommunications at Deloitte. “It will be up to the handset vendors and network providers to convince their customers of the benefits they will see from switching and overcome barriers such as price, inertia, over-hype and any scepticism. As 5G networks begin to be deployed, it will be areas of high footfall such as sports stadia, train stations and shopping centres that will give smartphone owners their first touchpoints with the technology.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.