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Rural UK areas still lacking 4G coverage as 5G rolls out

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The rollout of 5G networks will not “immediately solve” Britain’s rural connectivity problems, according to

While all major UK carriers are set to introduce 5G by the end of this year, nearly a third of the country is still frequently forced to rely on the 3G network.

5G is set to be launched initially in urban areas, with London and Cardiff being offered four 5G networks, while customers in Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester will have the choice of three providers.

The new networks may take some time to come to more rural areas of the UK, especially considering that the limited range of the technology renders it less suited for broad coverage than previous generations.

Only 28 per cent of the country will have 5G by the end of 2019, with 72 per cent of the population left without access to fifth-generation connectivity in the near future, uSwitch said.

The digital divide is highlighted by the low 4G availability figures in rural areas, despite 4G having first launched in 2012. The UK’s major cities all have more than 80 per cent 4G availability, according to Opensignal’s data.

Perhaps surprisingly, London is ranked 15th out of 16 cities, with Opensignal users in the capital only able to connect to 4G 84 per cent of the time. Only Edinburgh has more unreliable 4G availability, with Opensignal’s users only able to access 4G 83 per cent of the time. Nottingham was shown to be the best connected with over 88 per cent coverage.

uSwitch says it found that only one in seven phone users (14 per cent) plans to upgrade to 5G in the next year, and only 19 per cent believe it will improve connectivity.

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at said: “With so many of us completely reliant on our smartphones these days for our news, work, shopping and social media updates, there is little more frustrating than being unable to connect to phone services which we pay for.

“Ofcom reports that 66% of the UK has 4G coverage from all major provider, but more than 23 million people are still facing difficulties connecting to their networks,” he said. “This can sometimes be blamed on network congestion at busy times, but often the capacity simply isn’t there for the numbers of people wanting to access a service they have paid for.”

“The arrival of the next-generation infrastructure should help with some of the problems currently experienced by 4G users, but this will not be an overnight solution, in particular as fewer than one in seven of us is planning to upgrade to 5G in the next year.

Doku also urged mobile operators to not use the launch of 5G to plug holes in existing network coverage.

“The industry cannot use the launch of 5G as a band-aid to cover up the shortcomings of 4G. Providers must work with communities to improve connectivity, especially in rural areas, to prevent millions of people being left stranded on technology two generations out of date,” he said. “Unless networks improve their coverage in rural areas, the risk is that 5G will make the same mistakes as 4G and predominantly serve the cities at the expense of more rural areas of the country.”

On Monday, Chancellor Sajid Javid announced a £5 billion package from the government to support the roll-out of broadband, 5G and other high-speed networks aimed at reaching the hardest-to-reach 20 per cent of the country as part of infrastructure investment designed to help businesses and communities grow.

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