The 5G revolution may have arrived, but it’s safe to say consumers have been fairly underwhelmed so far.
The launch of 4G in 2012 garnered press coverage which hasn’t been matched this time around, while handset sales don’t appear to have been boosted by 5G’s arrival in the UK.
In part, that’s because many regions of the country have yet to experience the blistering speed a 5G-enabled handset can download (and upload) content at.
And while 5G will ultimately underpin the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles (among many other disruptive technologies), we’re some way from an always-on future.
Even so, many of the country’s most densely populated areas are already enjoying near-instantaneous streaming and gaming over a network which should always be lightning-fast.
State of play
As of early November, this is how the UK’s four main mobile networks stack up in terms of providing specific regions and areas with 5G:
Back in May, EE launched wireless 5G in selected boroughs of the UK’s four capital cities, plus Birmingham and Manchester.
By October, they’d rolled out in 20 more towns and cities, including suburbs and satellite towns. Areas with 5G around Manchester include Salford, Rochdale and Oldham.
EE has also been focusing on transport hubs, from Market Street in Edinburgh and Belfast’s City Hall to London’s Charing Cross train station and St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff.
Plans for next year will see urban networks activated from Aberdeen to Plymouth, though EE (like O2 and Vodafone) only has one segment of the 3.4GHz frequency band to play with.
By comparison with EE, O2 is lagging behind with the rollout of its fifth-generation cellular network.
At present, it’s available in parts of the UK’s four capitals, plus Slough and Leeds. There are plans to increase this to 20 towns and cities by the end of this year, and 50 by next summer.
O2 is mirroring EE’s focus on rolling out services to tourist attractions and key locations including Twickenham rugby stadium.
It’s also working in partnership with Network Rail, though the fruits of this collaboration are unlikely to be seen for some time.
Three’s name was chosen to reflect its status as the first provider of 3G services in the UK, back in 2001. It repeated the trick in 2012, becoming the first widely available 4G network
This time around, Three trailed EE by three months, seeing its first 5G network go live in London in August.
Three claims it has acquired more of the 5G bandwidth spectrum than any other provider – its 140MHz of spectrum is more than the other three firms on this list can access between them.
However, despite listing 25 forthcoming towns and cities on its website (including Bradford, Middlesbrough and Glasgow), you can currently only get Three 5G in parts of London.
At the end of October, Vodafone was claiming it provided more areas with 5G than any other mobile company – despite the fact Three had made an identical claim earlier in the month.
Unlike EE, its rollout hasn’t focused on capital cities. Instead, Vodafone launched in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh, alongside unexpected locations like Lancaster and Newbury.
Vodafone claims it will roll out 5G in seven more towns before the end of this year, from Warrington to Portsmouth.
Unfortunately for residents of Northern Ireland, the Six Counties aren’t scheduled to receive Vodafone 5G any time soon.