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Launch of Vodafone 5G network

Vodafone launches 5G service with speed-based unlimited data deals

Image credit: E&T Magazine

The network operator has switched on its 5G network at an event in London, challenging its rivals with a range of speed-based unlimited mobile data deals.

The latest generation of mobile network technology transmits data considerably faster and with lower latency than previous generations. 5G is expected to be used to transmit high volumes of data between connected devices, including autonomous cars and IoT devices.

At an event in the City of London this morning, Vodafone switched on its 5G network in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow, as well as in the Isles of Scilly. Formula One racing star Lewis Hamilton made an appearance at the launch event to press the button turning on the network.

The network operator plans to launch its 5G offering in an additional 12 UK towns and cities by the end of the year and will also introduce 5G roaming in four countries over the summer. According to Andrea Dona, head of networks at Vodafone, while the company is launching its 5G network after rival EE launched its 5G service, it is launching with full functionality and mobility. Its 5G services will be available on the Samsung S10 5G and the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G handsets with immediate effect.

The arrival of the new mobile network has prompted concerns that users will quickly eat through their data allowances. A BBC broadcast over EE’s 5G network in May ran into a minor inconvenience when the crew tore through their entire data allowance before the live broadcast and had to switch to a second SIM card. Vodafone has thrown down the gauntlet to rival networks by announcing a set of speed-based unlimited mobile data packages for both 4G and 5G, with no premium for 5G. These include ‘Unlimited Lite’ (£23/m with speeds up to 2Mbps); ‘Unlimited’ (£26/m with speeds up to 10Mbps), and a more 5G-focused ‘Unlimited Max’ (£30/m with maximum speeds allowed by network). A similar raft of unlimited packages will also be offered to enterprise customers and the network operator will also offer a ‘Vodafone Together’ package, combining broadband and mobile services for £50/m.

“We don’t charge premium for 5G, no catches,” said Nick Jeffery, Vodafone UK CEO, speaking at the launch of the 5G network. “This is a vital point of difference versus our competitions. To charge a premium makes a customer have to judge how often they’re going to be in a 5G area, a barrier that is not needed. One of the benefits we know of 5G is that it helps provide a more reliable service in more congested areas, so why charge a customer a premium for a service they should already expect? 5G is already more efficient for data usage on the network; it’s good for us, it’s good for customers. We want as many people as possible to experience 5G [with] no premium.”

Following consultation, the company found that many customers were “anxious” about hitting their monthly data limit and that offering packages defined by gigabyte allowance often felt meaningless. He explained that the industry had to change how it was selling data: “As an industry, we are still focusing on the same propositions, focusing on gigabyte allowances alone. We need to change. We believe it’s time to start to differentiate our offering based on experience, not just on gigabyte allowance.”

Speaking to reporters following the launch, Jeffery commented that this change “is for much more than today, it is for the long run and as 5G networks get deployed across [different regions] and more devices and more types of devices come to market, we think it is going to be the type of pricing structure that suits people and businesses in the long run.”

Vodafone also announced the next-generation 5G-enabled ‘Gigacube’, which transforms mobile networks into Wi-Fi for devices at home.

The launch of 5G networks in the UK and elsewhere has been overshadowed by a dispute over the role of Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies as a major provider of 5G infrastructure. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications manufacturer, is at the centre of an ongoing and unpredictable trade war between China and the US. The US has urged its allies to shut the company out of their telecommunications infrastructure over concerns that the company could be used as an earpiece for the Chinese government.

The UK government has not yet confirmed the extent to which Huawei will be permitted to build national 5G infrastructure, although in April it was reported that the National Security Council had cleared the company to build non-core parts of the network. Vodafone has elected to use some Huawei equipment for the non-core parts of its 5G network, such as radio antennas, as well as deploying some 5G infrastructure on top of existing Huawei 4G stations.

According to Scott Petty, Vodafone UK CTO, the company has been working on the transition to 5G for the past three to four years, including by using software to allow for automated and distributed decision-making across the network, enabling faster speeds, lower latency, and greater responsiveness.

The company is also moving towards deploying small-cell technology in order to compensate for the comparatively short range of 5G signals. Unlike 3G and 4G, 5G range is comparable to that of Wi-Fi, meaning that many more cells must be deployed in order to provide sufficient coverage. Vodafone has been experimenting with placing cells in old phone boxes and in manholes, where they can remain inconspicuous in public places.

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