5G Coverage Update – O2

O2 bought more in the first 5G spectrum auction than any rival. it’s working to strengthen its current network as well as trialling 5G technologies and it’s revealed when it plans to launch a live 5G network.

Network and launch plan

O2 has around 99% UK population coverage with 4G, but so do the other operators.

One advantage O2 might have over rivals though is its network of 15,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. With 5G in the early days this is likely to work in combination with other network types, having access to free Wi-Fi could be beneficial to O2 customers.

O2 is also working to strengthen its network even ahead of a 5G launch by installing small cells and adding dark fibre to its network.

Spectrum holdings

O2 won 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum at Ofcom’s 5G spectrum auction, paying £317,720,000. Its 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum covered the 3500MHz – 3540MHz part of the band and the amount it acquired is more than Three and equal to EE, with only Vodafone acquiring more in this band.
But O2 also won all 40MHz of the 2.3GHz spectrum that was being auctioned, at a cost of £205,896,000. The 2.3GHz spectrum is immediately useable, while the 3.4GHz band will be useful for 5G.

These combined winnings almost double O2’s total spectrum holdings, though some networks still have more.
However, there’s set to be more 5G spectrum auctions, with spectrum in the 3.6GHz – 3.8GHz bands and the 700MHz band planned for release, followed potentially by spectrum in other bands, so O2 will have the chance to increase its holdings.

Launch plans

O2 has confirmed that it won’t commercially launch 5G before 2020, which is a little disappointing and giving away a potential first to market advantage.

O2 appear to have the opinion that a 5G release in 2019 isn’t possible unless the operator is using a combination of 4G and 5G and they (O2) intend to just focus on a standalone 5G service which will take longer to deliver. Only history will bear out the wisdom of this strategy.

However, its possible the roll out will be faster than 4G was, as 5G is clearly important to the network, given that O2 itself found that 5G could lead to £6 billion a year in productivity savings.

We don’t know which cities will be the first to get O2 5G, but its 4G network started in London, Leeds and Bradford, so it’s possible that those three will be first in line again. Certainly, London is an odds on favourite to be.

Current trial and development activities

5G trials

O2 has also invited every FTSE 100 company in the UK to participate in its 5G trials, in the hopes of understanding better which processes and use cases would benefit the most from 5G technology.

O2 has launched two Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) trials in King’s Cross and Marble Arch. Massive MIMO will be a key component of 5G.

O2 is also running a trial of Li-Fi technology, Li-Fi (short for Light Fidelity) uses ‘visible light’ from LED bulbs to transmit data.

Other development activities

O2 has spent £80 million installing a network of around 1,400 small cells across Greater London and will be working with Arqiva to install 300 more. Small cells can boost signal indoors and out, and will be vital to any 5G network.

We believe Zayo Group Holdings (a bandwidth infrastructure company) will be providing O2 with 1,100 miles of dark fibre to connect some of the network’s data centres.

O2 has also partnered with SSE Enterprise Telecoms to use fibre to connect its cell sites and masts in London. This is another infrastructure upgrade that could really help with 5G.

O2 is also helping to carry out driverless car trials between Oxford and London. The trials are taking place on existing technology, but 5G is likely to be the thing that helps driverless cars take off, so O2 should have some early expertise.

Similarly, O2 is working to launch a region-wide 5G testbed in the midlands, which among other things will be used for autonomous vehicle trials.

So in summary O2 are have spent large amounts on spectrum and invested heavily in the infrastructure and resources for trials to be 5G ready which gives confidence to a potentially great network experience but won’t be first to market – set to launch in 2020.

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