Vodafone targets cities and rural areas for 2019 5G launch

Vodafone has confirmed it plans to launch 5G services in several parts of the UK 2019, with rural areas covered alongside major cities.

The operator will hold 5G in seven cities - Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester – before the end of 2018 and these will form the basis for the 5G network.

These trials will start in Manchester, with the city’s MediaCIty UK playing host to the company’s first 5G innovation hub, with 60 sites going live across all seven cities. But Vodafone said it wanted to bring 5G to other areas, hence the decision to cover Cornwall and the Lake District.

Vodafone 5G

It said it had noted an increase in data use in these areas and believed it would serve as a perfect testcase for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband and how connectivity can foster innovation in all parts of the UK – not just major centres of population like London.

By 2020, Vodafone believes it will have more than 1,000 5G-enabled sites, with deployment linked to the availability of 5G compatible devices.

UK CTO Scott Petty expects the first 5G smartphones to be made available by the middle of next year, with new models announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, and believes manufacturers are taking their time because of the new possibilities that 5G will enable, particularly in areas like immersive entertainment.

“The devices that come out will be amazing,” he said at an event at Vodafone’s Newbury campus. “We’ve kind of gone as far as we can with 2D screens and I think that’s why the handset manufacturers are taking their time.”

“5G brings a whole set of benefits and capabilities for us. The first is speed as 5G enables speeds of hundreds of Mbps and even 1Gbps, but even more significant is latency. The average latency on our network is between 50-60ms and 5G will bring that down to less than 10ms. This is crucial if we want real time Virtual Reality content.”

The latency, speeds and capacity are essential for real, time high bandwidth IoT applications such as industry 4.0 and connected cars, but 5G will also support NB-IoT, which is used for devices in remote areas.

“The final benefit of 5G is IoT at massive scale,” added Petty. “At present we can only connect a few thousand to each base station, 5G will increase this to hundreds of thousands.”

Petty added that being part of the wider Vodafone group has significant advantages, with the company able to exert considerable influence in the sector and with each country benefiting from a greater pool of R&D activities.

Vodafone made its first call over 5G in April, shortly after it won its 3.4GHz spectrum licence at the Ofcom 5G auction, but to demonstrate the possibilities of 5G to the audience, it staged the UK’s first 5G holographic call with Manchester City and England Women’s captain Steph Houghton.

Vodafone’s timetable brings it line with EE, which also has ambitions to launch 5G in 2019. It recently refarmed some of its 3G spectrum for 4G with a view to laying the foundations for future 5G infrastructure. Three and O2 also have 5G plans in the works.

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.