EE targets businesses as it launches 5G 'Phase One'

Image Credit: EE (Image credit: EE)

EE will switch on the UK’s first 5G network next week, with coverage going live in six cities on 30 May before arriving in ten further locations before the end of the year.

The UK’s largest mobile operator has adopted a ‘demand-led’ approach and will upgrade sites in the busiest parts of each city, with the first six being London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Belfast.

This means major train stations and areas like London’s Covent Garden will be covered.

Although EE expects some customers to achieve 1Gbps before the end of 2019, it is the additional reliability that are the main selling points. 5G networks use high capacity spectrum and make more efficient use of the frequencies to connect more users to sites and maintain signal quality.

EE 5G launch

Phase one of the rollout will last until 2022, when EE’s core 5G network will be in place, as will new spectrum bands and new chipset technologies will be available. Phase three, from 2023 onwards, will see mission-critical low-latency, network slicing, gigabit speeds and real-time traffic management capabilities enabled.

“5G is going to give customers in the busy areas an uplift of 150Mbps on average and often more than that. This is a premium experience,” said BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera. “We are confident that some customers will break the 1Gbps milestone. When we launched 4G in 2012, we were talking bout 12-15Mbps and hat was game changing.

“But it’s not about peak speeds in peak conditions – it’s about reliability. Our 5G strategy is demand led and focuses on the busiest areas of busiest cities. These sites make up eight per cent of our network sites but carry 20 per cent of our data traffic. These are the areas our customers need it most.”

EE will upgrade 100 sites a month and will expand its network even further in 2020. But Allera was at pains to stress that 5G would coexist with its 4G service, which would continue to be upgraded, and eventually form part of a converged network with its broadband, and Wi-Fi services.


“Our fixed and mobile networks are the backbone of this country’s digital infrastructure,” added Allera. “We’re working again to keep the UK at the forefront of technology.”

EE will offer handsets from the likes of Samsung and OnePlus, but not Huawei. The company is also partnering with Pokémon Go developer Niantic, while it also connecting Google’s Kings Cross campus with BT Labs to further 5G development.

Beyond consumer applications, BT believes 5G and its converged infrastructure will attract significant interest from business. SMBs will form the initial focus of this effort, initially using the EE brand, with BT eventually offering enterprise plans once the additional features of 5G are enabled.

Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon and Samsung UK & Ireland chief Conor Pierce also touted the business potential of 5G during the launch in central London.

Allera noted that although EE 4G was the first UK 4G service when it was launched in late 2012, it was far from being the first. With 5G, the UK is expected to be a 5G leader. 

There have been fears that UK 5G rollout could be delayed by any number of factors, including spectrum availability, access to street furniture, and any ban on Huawei radio kit.  

If operators could not access Huawei’s radio technology, then the UK would cede any leadership position in 5G and widespread availability of services could be delayed by 18-24 months, costing the economy as much as £6.8 billion.

However leaks from a government investigation into the matter has suggested that operators will be able to use this equipment, paving the way for all four major operators to launch in 2019.

Rival Vodafone has confirmed it will launch 5G services in July, with Three and O2 set to go live  before the end of the year.

It was clear that EE was determined to be first, however.

“Our fixed and mobile networks are the backbone of this country’s digital infrastructure,” added Allera. “We’re working again to keep the UK at the forefront of 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.