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5G in the UK: everything you need to know

Image Credit: Samsung / TechRadar

5G in the UK is here! Or, at least, it is in a few places, and we know when it will be in many more, which is half the battle.

The 5G networks in the UK are launching in a very staggered manner, as some have been available since May 2019, and others will only be available November 2019 or later. Even with networks that have launched, the networks aren't available nationwide, and on top of that most phones don't support 5G yet, so most people can't take advantage of the new, super-speedy connectivity yet.

Thankfully we've got all the information you need to ensure a smooth transition onto the 5G superhighway. So grab your phone, buckle up and prepare to merge into the fast lane.

I want 5G right now

What is 5G?

5G networks are the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before.

Read more about 5G

If you're not interested in the nitty gritty and already have your heart set on a 5G phone and plan, we've collected the best 5G deals in the UK for you.

EE was the first network to launch 5G in the UK on May 30, 2019, and it's since been joined by Vodafone, which turned on its service on July 3. For now, these are your only two real options for 5G in the UK.

Three technically offers a 5G network as of August 19, 2019, but only for home broadband, and only in parts of London - it will however expand to phones at some point before the year is out.

We're still waiting for O2 to roll out its 5G offering, but its network is set to go live in October. Meanwhile, BT (which will use EE's network) has confirmed it will launch 5G this autumn.

Whichever network you opt for you will need a new 5G phone and in most cases a new 5G contract to take advantage of it, as well as needing to live or work in an area that has 5G coverage.

5G on EE

Image Credit: EE

Image Credit: EE

  • EE 5G launch date: May 30, 2019
  • EE 5G towns and cities: 6 (16 by end of year)
  • EE 5G phones: 5

EE 5G launch date

EE was the first to launch its 5G network, with it landing in the UK on May 30, 2019 - beating the rest of the pack to the punch, as it did with 4G.

EE 5G locations

Initially you can get EE 5G in six cities in the UK, with London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester the lucky recipients, but the network has committed to rolling out 5G to 10 more cities before the end of the year.

EE customers can expect 5G to hit the following areas in 2019: Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

However, at launch EE's 5G coverage does not reach all areas of every city. We've tested it out in London, and found that it's not consistent. In areas where 5G is available though, we're consistently getting speeds of around 200Mbps (versus around 15-20Mbps on 4G devices).

EE 5G devices

EE has five 5G smartphones for you to choose. The cheapest is the Oppo Reno 5G, the priciest are the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G, while the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G sit in the middle of the group.

You can also pre-order the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G at the time of writing.

EE 5G speeds

We got our hands on the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G on launch day and have been testing out the speed of EE's shiny new network.

While top speeds of over 1Gbps are quoted, in reality we've seen speeds more consistently around the 200-400Mbps threshold - still comfortably faster than average 4G speeds.

The fastest 5G speed we've managed to achieve in London is 550Mbps, and in that location we downloaded an hour long, 1GB, high quality video from Amazon Prime in 43 seconds.

EE 5G cost

So how much is EE asking for the first taste of 5G in the UK?

5G on Vodafone

Image Credit: Vodafone

Image Credit: Vodafone

  • Vodafone 5G launch date: July 3, 2019
  • Vodafone 5G town and cities: 15 (22 by end of year)
  • Vodafone 5G phones: 3

Vodafone 5G launch date

Vodafone is the second carrier to launch its 5G network in the UK, which went live on July 3, 2019.

Vodafone 5G locations

Vodafone 5G is now live in 15 locations, which includes the 7 launch cites of London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol, which have now been joined by another eight in Birkenhead, Bolton, Gatwick, Lancaster, Newbury, Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton.

It's not done there though, as Vodafone has also promised to bring 5G to a further seven locations before the year is out. The lucky locations are: Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton and Warrington.

Vodafone 5G devices

So far, Vodafone has three 5G smartphones on offer, with the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G all available to buy now. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G is also up for pre-order.

Vodafone 5G cost

So how much is Vodafone asking for its 5G services?

5G on Three UK

Image Credit: Three UK

Image Credit: Three UK

(Image credit: Three UK)
  • Three 5G launch date: August 19, 2019 (broadband only)
  • Three 5G launch cities: 1
  • Three 5G launch devices: 1

Three UK 5G launch date

Three launched its 5G network on August 19, 2019. However, initially it's only offering 5G home broadband, with its mobile 5G proposition arriving later in the year.

Three UK 5G locations

Three currently only offers 5G in parts of London, however it says it will launch 5G in 24 additional towns and cities around the UK by the end of year. 

The locations are: Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Slough, Sunderland and Wolverhampton.

Three also claims that it aims to provide 5G coverage to 80% of its network traffic in three years.

Three UK 5G devices

Three already sells the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G, despite not having a live 5G mobile network yet. It will additionally be stocking the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G when that phone launches, and plans to sell the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G.

Three UK 5G cost

Three plans to offer 5G at no extra cost. Of course, 5G handsets are expensive in their very nature, with Three's only current offering, the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G, starting at £48 per month at the time of writing.

5G on O2

Image Credit: O2

Image Credit: O2

  • O2 5G launch date: October 2019
  • O2 5G launch cities: 6
  • O2 5G launch devices: 3

O2 5G launch date

All O2 has confirmed so far is that it will launch its 5G network in October 2019. 

O2 5G locations

O2 has confirmed its 5G network will initially go live in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Leeds and Slough, and the carrier has said it plans to have 5G live in 20 cities and towns before the end of the 2019. The additional 14 locations include:

Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Eton, Guildford, Leicester, Lisburn, Norwich, Nottingham, Reading, Stoke and Windsor.

It also said it plans to spread its 5G network to 50 locations by summer 2020, which would include Milton Keynes, Birmingham and Brighton.

However, it's worth noting that the first areas in cities O2 will bring 5G to will be social hubs like sports stadiums, shopping malls, transport hubs such as train stations, and music venues, and it suggested that it could be several years before there's dense residential penetration.

O2 5G devices

O2 already offers the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and it will be stocking the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G - both of which will likely be available by the time its 5G network has launched.

Previously, O2 had said it would stock the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G, but it now appears that won't be the case, at least initially, due to Huawei's ongoing issues in the US.

O2 5G cost

Wondering what a 5G phone on O2 will cost you? You can see current offers below - though note that this is for a 4G plan (you'll be able to move to a 5G one once the service is available).

5G on Sky Mobile

(Image credit: Sky)

Sky Mobile 5G launch date

Sky Mobile has confirmed its 5G network launches in November, but we don't know exactly when just yet.

Sky Mobile 5G locations

Since Sky Mobile uses O2's network, it will launch in exactly the same cities – Cardiff, London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Slough, and Leeds. There's no word on expansion plans for now, though.

Sky Mobile 5G devices

Sky Mobile will be ranging the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, and the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G initially, and again there's no word on what other smartphones will be available.

5G on BT

(Image credit: BT)

BT 5G launch date

BT has confirmed that it will launch its 5G offering this autumn, but there's no exact date just yet.

BT 5G locations

BT 5G will be using EE's network, so it will be available where EE's 5G coverage is. That means you're likely to get coverage in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester at the very least, from launch.

BT 5G devices

BT hasn't announced which 5G phones it will be ranging.

BT 5G cost

BT hasn't announced how much its 5G plans will cost.