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Vodafone to start 5G trials this autumn

MNO announces 5G trials in seven UK cities, with new mobile network infrastructure to be rolled out from October

Vodafone users in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester will get to try out prototype 5G mobile networks for themselves before 2018 is out, in the mobile network operator’s (MNO) largest trial of 5G technology to date.

Vodafone today unveiled the locations of its 5G test areas around the UK, and said its engineers were already hard at work laying the foundations for 5G at more than 40 sites.

The test network is set to roll out between October and December 2018, and Vodafone said it was talking to a number of its large enterprise customers with a view to testing the potential applications and use cases that 5G is expected to enhance, such as augmented and virtual reality.

“We want to make 5G and new fibre broadband services available to consumers and business throughout the UK, delivering a gigabit society for all,” said Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery. “We will also be bringing ultrafast 4G to several hundred sites in hard-to-reach rural areas this year, building on our position as the network that offers the best voice coverage in the UK.”

Vodafone claimed it was able to commit to conducting such an extensive 5G trial after winning the largest block of 5G spectrum in Ofcom’s recent auction. The MNO picked up 50MHz of spectrum in the 3.4GHz band at a cost of £378.2m, while EE and O2 picked up 40MHz each and Three acquired 20MHz.

The trials will help it to prepare for the commercial launch of full 5G, which is currently expected to become a reality in early 2020.

The trials are part of a wider Vodafone programme, dubbed Gigabit UK, which has also seen it team up with wholesale full-fibre broadband network builder CityFibre to launch a gigabit consumer broadband service in seven other locations – Aberdeen, Coventry, Edinburgh, Huddersfield, Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Stirling. It is understood the first paying customers are expected to start receiving a live service in the fourth quarter.

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Both the 5G and its gigabit full-fibre service are backed up by a nationwide core fibre network called RedStream, which at the time of writing linked 1,300 broadband exchanges and close to 1,600 other locations, such as retail and business parks and apartment buildings.

A recent test of photonics technology on the RedStream network saw the core achieve speeds of up to 400Gbps.

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