London is set to be ground zero in a 5G deployment battle taking shape in the U.K. between rival operators EE and Vodafone. That country’s capital is currently the only city in which both operators plan to begin trials by year-end.
EE started the skirmish earlier this month when it announced plans to launch a trial in parts of London beginning in October. That trial will include 10 cell sites upgraded with 5G technology. But it will be limited initially for use by just five small businesses and five homes.
The carrier in April won spectrum licenses in the 3.4 GHz band through a government auction that it said it would use for 5G services. EE is the largest mobile operator in the U.K., serving around 30 million customers.
Vodafone countered that move earlier today when it announced plans to trial 5G services in seven markets by year-end. The carrier said it was working on 40 sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, and Manchester.
Vodafone said it was in negotiations with enterprise customers “with a view to testing new 5G applications such as augmented and virtual reality in offices, factories, and hospitals.”
The carrier also acquired spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band through the same auction process that it plans to use for the trials. Vodafone, which is the country’s third-largest operator with around 17.5 million customers, last year struck a deal with Ericsson to update the carrier’s U.K. 4G LTE network in preparation for the migration toward 5G support.
Verizon and AT&T are embroiled in the most heated battle, with each claiming plans to launch the first commercial 5G service by the end of this year. However, Verizon is focusing its efforts on a fixed 5G deployment that would not allow for a device to roam between cell sites, while AT&T is focused on a mobile 5G deployment.
T-Mobile US and Sprint have both announced separate 5G plans, but are also in midst of a merger that they claim will boost their ability to compete with Verizon and AT&T.
A recent report from Strategy Analytics predicts that a combined T-Mobile US and Sprint will result in a 17 percent surge in the uptake of 5G services by 2023. That increase would come from having three similar-sized competitors in the market and investing more in their networks to remain competitive.