5G Coverage Update – EE

EE has market leading pedigree in 4G, so what are the plans for 5G?

EE has announced plans to launch 5G in around August 2019, it might be first to market but we don’t know for sure just yet.

EE is working hard to develop and trial the 5G kit required and has also secured a decent amount of 5G-capable spectrum at Ofcom’s recent auction.

Network and launch plans

EE currently has the UK’s largest 4G network, with over 99% population coverage and 91% of the UK geography covered. This is very relevant as early 5G networks are likely to rely on a combination of 4G and 5G infrastructure, rather than being standalone 5G networks.

EE’s massive 4G network could put it at an early advantage when it comes to 5G.

It’s also worth noting that EE was first to market with 4G in the UK, and hasn’t slowed down since, which is why its 4G network was the largest from day one and continues to be now. That all bodes well for it doing a similar thing with 5G.

EE might also pioneer new 5G technologies faster than rivals, especially when it comes to speed, having launched both double speed and 4G+ (4G LTE Advanced) on its current network, and offering consistently higher speeds than rivals in most tests. So while it will probably initially be using non-standalone 5G, there’s evidence that it could be one of the first networks to push beyond any reliance on older 4G technologies.

EE’s current 4G network is also lower latency than rivals according to most reports, such as OpenSignal’s April 2018 mobile networks report. Latency is the measure of how long it takes for the network to respond to a request and this could be even more important than speed for many of the new features – such as autonomous vehicles – that 5G could help deliver.

Of course, a low latency on 4G doesn’t mean it will offer a low latency on 5G, but it suggests this is something EE has been focused on delivering and will likely continue to be.

EE’s 5G network potential has a positive outlook due to the large amount of spectrum it holds, and its plans for a launch relatively soon.
Spectrum holdings.

EE came out of Ofcom’s first 5G spectrum auction with 40Mhz of 3.4GHz spectrum, specifically the 3540MHz – 3580MHz part of the band. It paid £302,592,000 for that.

There are set to be future 5G auctions for spectrum in the 3.6GHz – 3.8GHz bands and the 700MHz band, as well as potentially others, so there’s time for EE to collect more spectrum, and it already has more overall than any rival.

Launch plans

We might not have to wait too long for 5G on EE, as EE’s CEO said there will be a launch in 2019, though the network has added that it will evolve massively after launch.

It’s a similar story with BT – which owns EE – as that network has also said it could have a live 5G network before the end of 2019.
EE seems on track to launch in 2019, in September 2018 it announced plans to upgrade more than 500 mobile towers from 3G to five-carrier 4G over six months, laying the foundations for a later upgrade that would make them capable of 5G.

The network will first switch 5G on in parts of London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester.

Then, throughout the rest of 2019 it will bring coverage to parts of Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.

The smaller or more remote the place you live, the longer you’re likely to have to wait for 5G, but it’s sure to arrive sooner or later and due to beamforming and repeaters it will be easier to get service to those rural and remote areas.

Current trial and development activities

5G trials

EE is already carrying out 5G trials, including the UK’s first live 5G trial, which it held in Canary Wharf., using 3.4GHz spectrum. EE has launched nine additional 5G trial sites across London.

EE has also broadcast the EE Wembley Cup Final 2018 live over 5G using remote production. Live broadcasts are likely to be a big use for 5G and it’s unsurprising that EE is preparing for that, given that it’s owned by BT – itself a company involved in TV.

Prior to all this, one EE 5G trial reached 2.8Gbps download speeds. That was carried out in a lab (albeit simulating the real world), but in another earlier test EE commercially achieved speeds of 750Mbps at Wembley Stadium.

EE has also become the first UK mobile operator to demonstrate pre–5G backhaul technology, using a Helikite air mast solution. EE are pushing the boundaries with creative technology solutions.

Other development activities

EE has also teamed up with three of the world’s leading mobile operators to launch the LTE-Broadcast Alliance, which will facilitate the development of LTE-B – a key component of mobile streaming in the future. This suggests EE sees streaming as a major use of 5G, and will potentially have more expertise in delivering it and meeting growing data demands than rivals.

It’s also long been a member of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, and its potential 5G network ideas include integrating communications infrastructure into lamp posts and bricks in buildings, for more widespread but smaller scale network infrastructure, which could be key when dealing with spectrum that only travels a short distance, as some 5G spectrum will.

Speaking to The Telegraph, EE’s principal network architect, Professor Andy Sutton said: “Imagine a scenario where you’re putting up a new building and there are a number of bricks in that building. Why don’t we replace a number of those bricks with things that look like bricks, but are actually mobile transmitters?

“Communications infrastructure can also be integrated into lamp posts.”

2019 for mobile networks will be the year of the phrase ‘build it and they will come’. Billions being spent – will need high early volume adoption. EE appears to be working on this basis.

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