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5G: Finally, it's here in the UK - but so what?

  • 2 minute read
  • Published by Lucy Woods on 30 May 2019
  • Last modified 30 May 2019
EE's 5G launch is initially limited to six cities, including Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and London

After years of hype - and sometimes confusion - the UK finally has a 5G network.

BT's EE subsidiary is the first to launch a service - and if you're feeling wealthy enough and live in the right place, you can sign up.

The lowest-priced deal is £54 a month plus a one-off £170 fee for a compatible handset.

But bear in mind that buys you only 10GB of data a month, which you will be likely to chew through fairly quickly if you take advantage of the next-generation technology to download lots of media.

For many people, it may make sense to wait - and not just to take advantage of rival offers from Vodafone, which starts its own 5G service in about five weeks.

The two operators are launching in select cities only.

And even there, the connectivity will be patchy, sometimes offering only outdoor connectivity, sometimes none at all - so customers will probably default to a slower 4G signal much of the time.

Image copyrightEEImage captionEE's coverage map of Manchester shows that only some areas - marked dark green - will get a 5G signal
Chip-maker Qualcomm has promised the first 5G phones will offer "all-day battery life" - but second- and third-generation modems will inevitably be more energy-efficient and thus allow handset-makers to offer either longer life between charges or thinner phones.

What's more, many of the innovations that promise to make 5G truly disruptive have yet to arrive. But more on that in a bit.

How fast will it go?
The communications watchdog Ofcom suggests that in time 5G could offer speeds of 20Gbps.

That is fast enough to download an ultra-high definition 4K movie in less time than it takes to read its description.

But for now, you should temper your expectations.

To start with, the fibre lines EE is using to link each 5G site to its network have a total capacity of only 10Gbps, which must be shared around.

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The network has suggested that, on average, users will achieve about 150-200Mbps downloads at launch, with lucky individuals hitting about 1Gbps at quiet times.

Read more: BBC News