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EE confirms 30 May 2019 go-live date for UK 5G network

Mobile operator is on course to become the first to go live with 5G in the UK, but Huawei phones will not be among its launch-day devices

EE has confirmed that the first phase of its 5G roll-out will start on 30 May 2019, with Huawei smartphones omitted from its rundown of launch-day devices.

The mobile operator said its 5G services will go live from next week in six UK cities – Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester – putting the company on course to become the first operator in the UK to launch the next-generation network.

According to EE, customers in these areas will benefit from network speeds of 100-150Mbps. To put that figure into context, when EE’s 4G network launched in 2012, the fastest possible network speed was 50Mbps.

Since then, consumers and businesses have grown accustomed to having access to fast, readily available network connectivity, fuelling demand for faster speeds and even greater coverage, which is where 5G comes in, said EE CEO Marc Allera at a launch event for its 5G network in London.

“People will ask: why do I need 5G?” he said. “But they did say the same thing about 4G, and look how much has changed in the way people live their lives, how they talk to their friends, watch TV, how they do business, bank, shop, order food, travel and play video games.

“4G sparked a huge shift in the businesses and creation of new services that we all use. Uber, Netflix, Deliveroo, YouTube, Instagram and iPlayer – none of these companies or services would exist in the way they do today without a fast, reliable, mobile connection, and 5G is going to change everything all over again.”  

The 30 May 2019 launch date will mark the start of the first phase of the company’s wider 5G deployment plans, said Allera, which will see it add 10 more cities to its roll-call of 5G connected cities by 2020.

This phase will see EE continue to invest in the continued development of its existing 4G networks, which Allera described as foundationally important to the delivery of its 5G plans.

“Our 5G network is an additional layer on top of 4G,” he said. “We will keep developing 4G. We will be working hard to ensure people in every part of the UK, including rural areas, are connected.

“We will keep increasing our 4G capacity and coverage alongside rolling out 5G. And no, we will not be throttling our 4G to make 5G look faster.”

In parallel with this, the company has committed to upgrading 100 sites a month to 5G from 22 May 2019, enabling users to take advantage of faster, more reliable and higher-capacity network connections, said Allera.

“That is phase one of our 5G plan, and I have talked a lot about 4G because 5G in this phase is paired with 4G,” he said. “The two technologies will work together, so our customers experience a direct result of the 4G and 5G parts of the network working together.

“You cannot be a leader in 5G without a strong 4G foundation, and we are building from the best 4G foundation in the business.”

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EE anticipates that by 2021, its roll-out will have entered the second phase, which will be characterised by the emergence of services that are less reliant on EE’s existing 4G infrastructure, with 5G spectrum that the firm acquired through the Ofcom auction coming into play.

The launch event also saw EE confirm that its new 5G plans are now available to pre-order, along with a number of 5G-compatible devices from Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, HTC and LG.

However, as confirmed at the event by Allera, the company has decided not to include devices from Chinese mobile manufacturer Huawei in its launch plans for now. This follows Google’s decision to exclude Huawei’s devices from receiving updates to its Android mobile operating system.

During a Q&A session at the event, Allera said EE had placed the devices “on pause” to give its customers certainty that any devices they buy to access its services will receive long-term support.

“This is until we get the information and confidence that gives us the long-term surety that our customers, when they buy those devices, will be supported for the lifetime they have got the device with us,” he said. “When that information changes, we will move forward, hopefully. For now, we’ve put those devices on pause.”

From a network build-out perspective, the ongoing controversy surrounding the use of Huawei’s kit in the US and the UK will have no bearing on EE’s ability to go live with its network on 30 May 2019, which is not reliant on just one company’s technology, said Allera.

“We have worked for decades with the government and our security services, collaborating on our networks, both fixed and mobile,” he said. “We agree and sign off our architecture and principles with how we design and build those networks with their support, guidance and approval.  

“At the moment, we have no instructions to change our plans, but it is important to say that we have a multi-vendor policy and architecture we are rolling out across our network. Our core [network] will be made up of a number of providers. Huawei are part of that, but they are not the only part.”

News of the launch comes just over a week after EE’s competitor, Vodafone, outlined its 5G launch plans, which will see its network go live in seven cities on 3 July 2019, with customers able to access 5G for the same price as its existing 4G services.

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