EE shop front in London

Stormzy and BBC first to use EE’s 5G network as service goes live in UK cities

Image credit: Dreamstime

The BT-owned telecommunications operator has launched its 5G network to the public in six UK cities, ahead of a wider rollout.

5G is the latest generation of mobile network technology, which follows 4G. 5G uses shorter-range, higher-frequency millimetre waves to transmit information at speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G. The new standard is expected to be used to transmit high volumes of data between connected devices such as driverless cars and other IoT devices, as well as increasing speeds for mobile devices.

EE launched its 5G network for public use in some parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. It plans to follow this soft launch with 1,500 sites by the end of the year, including the busiest parts of Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol, Glasgow, Coventry, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester. While rolling out 5G, it will also convert 500 3G mobile towers to output 4G signals to help boost speeds in more rural areas.

EE celebrated the 5G launch by live-streaming a concert from rapper Stormzy – a month ahead of his headline Glastonbury appearance – from a boat on the Thames, broadcast via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Stormzy commented that he was “honoured to be part of history”.

This morning, the BBC also celebrated the launch of the service by broadcasting over the new mobile network for the first time, with BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones appearing live on BBC Breakfast in a piece to camera transmitted using a single SIM card. He commented that he experienced a shorter delay than normal, although the broadcast had been delayed due to his team running out of data on an initial SIM card.

EE’s 5G deals begin at £54/month for 10GB of mobile data, which could be quickly used up through data-intensive activities such as video streaming.

EE is among a handful of operators set to offer a 5G service this year. Rival provider Vodafone is set to follow by launching 5G in seven UK cities on 3 July, followed with 12 more cities by 2020.

5G-enabled handsets are available from a number of smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, OnePlus and LG. However, the world’s largest telecommunications manufacturer and second-largest smartphone manufacturer, Huawei, has been left out of the launch due to its high-profile role in the trade war between the US and China. The inclusion of Huawei on the ‘Entity List’ by US President Donald Trump's executive order has made it illegal for US companies to work with Huawei without a government license, following accusations that the company has violated trade sanctions with Iran, stolen technology from US companies like T-Mobile and could act as an earpiece for the Chinese government if granted contract to build national 5G infrastructures.

EE chief executive Marc Allera has said that the company will pause the sale of Huawei’s 5G phones “until we get the information and confidence and the long-term security that our customers – when they buy those devices – are going to be supported for the lifetime that they’ve got the device with us.”

Government leaks suggest that the National Security Council has agreed that Huawei will be allowed to build some ‘non-core’ elements of the UK’s 5G infrastructure, such as antennas, although culture secretary Jeremy Wright stated that the government is still undecided on whether Huawei will be permitted to provide parts of the infrastructure.

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