Which network is currently ahead in the race to 5G?

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There's no denying that 5G is kind of a big deal. Partially launched in the UK (depending on your network and location), it means faster speeds when on the move and lower latency so things like streaming video just got better. 

With a more reliable connection, you'll be able to enjoy higher quality video calls, download content while on the train, and even stream gaming sessions from your phone. 

It's likely that 5G connections will be 100 times faster than a standard 4G connection. That's not all either as, in theory, it'll all be far faster than many home broadband connections too, with 5G estimated to hit average speeds of 80-100Mbps.

So, what could it mean for changing the mobile landscape? Well, quite a lot. It could mean downloading a boxset within seconds while on your commute, and it could also mean more reliable conference calls, with no latency slowing down responses between you and your boss. 

All that is only possible with the right network though, and there's quite the battle right now between major UK networks to see who comes out on top in the race to 5G. Let's take a look at where each of the main networks are right now. 

Image credit: EE

Image credit: EE (Image credit: EE)


The largest mobile phone network in the UK, EE has nearly 30 million customers, and it's clearly keen to maintain that foothold via the rise of 5G. It's the first network to launch a 5G network and is therefore immediately appealing to anyone keen to be ahead of the rest. However, your mileage will vary massively depending on where you live.

The service is only currently available in limited parts of Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, and Manchester. If you live in one of those cities, it's the network you need to be with. Plans are afoot to expand that number to 16 by the end of the year, including Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. 

The network currently offers four 5G launch devices to choose from. There's the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, OPPO Reno 5G, and LG V50 ThinQ. In addition, EE is keen to embrace the idea of mobile broadband taking over from fixed-line broadband with the 5GEE Home Router and 5GEE WiFi in the pipeline. For now, interested customers can register their interest. 

EE did a pretty good job in the past with 4G and spreading it across the country, so it makes sense that the firm would be doing similar with 5G. 

Image credit: Vodafone

Image credit: Vodafone (Image credit: Vodafone)


The third largest mobile network, Vodafone is second out of the gate with 5G and has a fairly strong plan. Set to launch its 5G network on July 3, the service will be available in seven locations from day one – London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Bristol. 

Another 12 locations are planned by the end of the year, including Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.

However, Vodafone only has two 5G devices available for launch. There's the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G that's also available at EE, along with the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G

That's slim pickings for anyone keen to find the perfect smartphone for them. There's also the Vodafone 5G GigaCube, a wireless router that aims to bring 5G into the home but, much like EE, that's a 'register interest' kind of deal for now.

While Vodafone may offer more locations that have a 5G network, they're already a little behind EE when it comes to how you use it. Still, that won't matter for people in slightly smaller cities that are desperate for 5G as soon as possible. 

Image credit: O2

Image credit: O2 (Image credit: O2)


The second largest mobile network in the UK, O2 isn't exactly forthcoming about its 5G plans. Simply announcing that its 5G network will launch in 2019, the network has plans for four cities to have 5G available through its service. 

Those places comprise the capitals of the UK – London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast. No other details have been released regarding other city rollouts in the future. 

There's also the issue that potentially, O2 will only offer one launch device, which looks likely to be the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. An announcement was made in May that O2 would also stock the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G but given recent issues with Huawei, this could end up changing. If you don't want a Samsung handset, O2's 5G coverage isn't going to be for you. 

O2 isn't exactly looking appealing to early adopters, but then it does still offer an impressive 99% population coverage with 4G (and has recently improved its rural coverage) so it's a safe infrastructure to fall back on when you're not in a 5G area. If you know you’re going to regularly travel to areas without a 5G network, O2 is a decent option, even if it's a little slow on the 5G uptake. 

EE will be bringing 5G to Glastonbury Festival. (Image credit: EE)

EE will be bringing 5G to Glastonbury Festival. (Image credit: EE) (Image credit: Three)


If you thought O2's plans were a little vague, that's nothing compared to Three's plans. Firmly behind in the race to 5G supremacy, the firm has merely confirmed its 5G network launch in 2019 and named one city that will benefit – London. 

The Huawei Mate 20 X 5G has been mentioned as a possible launch device, but that's it, and it seems unlikely to come to fruition. 

Keen to embrace 5G as quickly as possible? In that case, it's best to give Three a miss. Its vagueness is far from appealing and the network is well and truly last in the race. 

The winner

EE is currently miles ahead of the competition. First to launch a 5G network, it also offers the most 5G compatible devices. Plus, it's available right now rather than requiring you to wait till later in the year. 

Its coverage plans aren't quite as extensive yet as Vodafone's, but if you're looking to pick a 5G network right now (and you live in a relevant city), you can't really go wrong with EE. 

With such plans in place, it's about time that O2 and Three shake things up and actually release some concrete details so potential 5G adopters actually know where to go next for their super fast speed fix. 

5G Uncovered, in association with Samsung, brings you everything you need to know about the next wave of connectivity - not just how fast it's going to be, but in just how many ways it's going to change your life. Our 5G Uncovered hub is carefully curated to show everything there is to know about the next generation of connection.   

Jennifer Allen

Jennifer is a roving tech freelancer with over 10 years experience. Having graduated from Swansea University with a degree in Media and Communication Studies, and later with a diploma from Staffordshire University with a post graduate diploma in Computer Games Design, she's written for a huge number of publications, including T3, FitandWell, Top Ten Reviews, Eurogamer, NME and many more. 

Her main areas of interest are all things B2B, smart technology, wearables, speakers, headphones, and anything gaming related, and you'll find her writing everything from product reviews to buying guides. In her spare time, she enjoys the cinema, walking, and attempting to train her pet guinea pigs. She is yet to succeed.