When Is 5G Coming to the UK? (Updated for 2018)

UK 5G rollout is expected in 2019

Picture of the UK flag and flag of Europe on a pole

The United Kingdom is one of many countries getting 5G in the coming years. Depending on the provider, UK mobile subscribers can expect to see 5G availability in major areas starting in 2019.

5G is a huge advancement over 4G when it comes to speed and latency, which is why it's so useful in areas like vehicle communication, smart cities, mobile communication, VR and AR, etc.

5G in the UK

Europe's largest 4G provider, and the UK's biggest network operator, might soon become its biggest 5G provider. EE plans to launch 5G in 2019, starting with the 1,500 busiest areas.

EE will roll out 5G in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, and Edinburgh first, followed by these areas in 2019:

  • Bristol
  • Coventry
  • Glasgow
  • Hull
  • Leeds
  • Leicester
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • Nottingham
  • Sheffield

The first 1,500 sites account for 15 percent of the UK’s entire population. However, EE’s 5G coverage will eventually reach much further because those first 5G sites cover just 10 percent of the places the company plans to roll out 5G.

EE is also planning to provide to its customers the OnePlus 5G smartphone and a 5G home router. Given that a 5G network requires a 5G device, we can expect them to be released before EE’s fifth-gen network is live.

Another company looking to launch 5G in the UK is O2. In August, 2018, UK's second-largest telecom provider used LED lights to transfer data, citing the LiFi trial as an example of how they're future-proofing their network to pave the way for 5G in the UK.

O2 is also partnering with Nokia to run massive MIMO trials in Kings Cross and Marble Arch to not only provide better coverage for existing customers but also to test how the technology can be used in a 5G network to boost performance in urban areas.

More proof that UK is pushing hard towards 5G is the fact that Vodafone UK, the country's third largest mobile telecom, is also actively working on a fifth-generation wireless network.

In 2017, Vodafone UK tested 5G in car-to-car communications; they made UK's first 5G holographic phone call in 2018; in October, 2018, switched on a 5G trial in Salford, Greater Manchester; and in December of 2018, began installing antennae under manhole covers to pave the way for 5G. The company plans to launch 5G in Cornwall and the Lake District in 2019, and will have upwards of 1,000 5G test sites live by 2020.

Three UK subscribers can look forward to 5G, too. After upgrading thousands of sites to LTE for faster speeds, the company announced in November, 2018, their commitment to investing over £2 billion into 5G. Three expects to have 5G phones and 5G home internet devices available by the second half of 2019.

Three might also one day support 5G internet at home. The company demoed 5G home broadband in London using Huawei routers, and while Three expects users to get download speeds anywhere from 80 Mbps to 100 Mbps, the peak download speeds of these broadband routers on a 5G network could be as high as 2 Gbps.

80-100 Mbps is much faster than the average speed of a fixed wireless access (FWA) network that the average UK customer currently gets (around 45 Mbps).

5G Trials in the UK

Beyond the companies mentioned above that are actively testing and rolling out 5G networks, is the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey in Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom.

5GIC is a testbed where researchers and partners can test and develop, in a real-world environment, any tech that could run on the next-gen wireless network. Their goal is to test 5G both inside and outside, in urban and rural locations where coverage might be difficult, and places where there isn't already a mobile network set up.

CityFibre and Arqiva announced in December, 2018, details about the country's largest 5G small cell pilot trial in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The companies are creating a 15 km high density fibre network which provides the bandwidth for mobile network operators to explore 5G. The aim is to “show the business and consumer benefits of this architecture and a successful rollout in Hammersmith & Fulham can be the prelude to a wider deployment in future.