The operator had already revealed its intention to launch services in seven cities and has now added a further 12 to its roster. That means Vodafone UK has gained the edge over BT-owned EE, which said late last year that it would launch 5G in 16 cities by the end of 2019.
Certainly, Vodafone UK and rivals O2 UK and Three UK will be keen to avoid a repeat of the situation with 4G LTE, when EE gained a head start by launching its network well ahead of rivals.
Vodafone UK said 5G sites have now gone live in Bristol, Cardiff, and Liverpool; Birmingham, Glasgow, and London are to be next. The 5G sites are connected by Vodafone RedStream, the operator’s optical fiber network that, according to the operator, supports speeds of up to 10 Gb/s. It added that the implementation of massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antenna technology means that many 4G sites are now “5G ready.”
The U.K. market may not be a world leader in 5G but plans by operators to launch services this year certainly place it in the vanguard. Regulator Ofcom has already allocated spectrum in the 3.4 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands for 5G following an auction in April 2018. Vodafone UK paid the largest amount for a 50-megahertz block of 3.4 GHz spectrum during that auction. Ofcom is now working on plans to auction spectrum in the 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz-3.7 GHz bands.
Telefonica-owned O2 UK recently announced plans to launch 5G this year, although its first phase only appears to be targeting Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London. O2 UK and Vodafone UK have also extended their existing network sharing agreement to 5G, which will allow both operators to more quickly launch 5G services.
Not to be left out, Three UK announced late last year that it would invest more than $2.6 billion in 5G and expects to launch services this year. However, there are few details on exactly where.
Three UK, which is owned by CK Hutchison, made its mark in the U.K. by providing unlimited mobile data to its customers and conducting aggressive pricing campaigns. It now seems to be focused on 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) – little surprise given that the carrier does not operate its own fixed network and has thus been unable to benefit from the fixed-mobile convergence trend.
Indeed, the operator cited a report from Ovum that estimates 5G wireless services “could replace traditional connections for 85 percent of the U.K.’s 26 million fixed-line customers, with equal or better speeds.”