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EE confirms October 2018 UK launch date for first 5G live trials

Mobile operator outlines plans to test its 5G network within London’s Tech City startup hub, as its push to become the UK’s first to market with the technology gathers pace

EE is on course to become the first UK mobile operator to pilot the use of 5G with its customers, when its trial network goes live in October within London’s Tech City startup hub.

The mobile operator has confirmed that five small businesses and five homes in Tech City will receive prototype 5G broadband devices to take part in the trial, which is geared towards showcasing how the network works in densely populated urban areas.

Howard Jones, network communications manager at EE, told Computer Weekly that the company has already started laying the groundwork for the trial and is finding the right candidates to pilot the technology within their homes and businesses.

“We’ve got those 10 sites built, and they’re radiating the right spectrum frequency to understand the coverage footprint, where it goes and how it is received indoors, so we can properly identify which buildings are potential candidates,” he said.

“Once we have understood that, we can start to identify residents and businesses who want to be involved, and work with them to get some kit installed, and help them really understand the difference that is being created between 4G and 5G, and between 5G and their fixed broadband experience at the moment.”

A major focus of the project is to help the people understand the benefits of 5G and the different use cases it can support, said Jones. For that reason, EE hopes that the news of the trials will encourage organisations to come forward with their own ideas for how to use the network.

“There’s quite a lot of work there that is going to be engagement with the public, consumers and businesses in those areas to make sure we are finding the right people in the right locations,” he said.

“If someone comes to us and says ‘we really want to do this and this is the use cases we have in mind’, we will welcome that, because we are not going to determine all the use cases. We want to get people excited, and if they want to do something different or have a particular need that this can fill, that’s brilliant.”

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News of the trial comes seven months after EE declared its joint effort to create an end-to-end 5G network architecture with Chinese networking giant Huawei a success, as it works towards becoming the first operator to market with a 5G network, with a go-live date pegged for 2019.

The company secured 40MHz of the 150MHz of 5G capacity made available by telecoms regulator Ofcom during the recent spectrum auction, after shelling out £302.6m

Digital minister Margot James said the trials will play an important part in positioning the UK as a global leader in 5G innovation.

“Together with the government’s own testbeds and trials programme, industry initiatives like this will help deliver the benefits of this revolutionary technology to businesses and consumers across the UK,” said James.

Fotis Karonis, managing director for mobile and voice converged services at EE, told Computer Weekly there are still a couple of hurdles to overcome before the 5G roll-out can continue apace, from a standards and network integration perspective, but things are heading in the right direction.

“The enterprise is where we see a lot of use cases emerging that are really game-changing, and for the consumer, it’s about fantastic data, seamless connected devices in the home, video, gaming, immersive applications – and that is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“It’s new for everybody, new for us, new for the device manufacturers and chipset manufacturers. We are leading the pack in customer innovation and experience, and ensuring we do that in a way that is working as nicely as possible for customers, and that we adapt to provide new applications.”

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