Exclusive: EE eyes 2019 commercial launch of 5G services in UK

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

BT's EE will hold UK field tests of 5G technology in 2018, with plans to deploy the technology commercially the following year

BT’s EE is set to deploy commercial 5G mobile services in 2019, GTB can exclusively reveal, as the race to launch 5G services heats up.

The operator, which was also first to launch 4G services in 2012, will launch 5G trials in 2018, before launching a “small scale” commercial deployment the following year, an EE source said.

The global standards for 5G are not due to be released until next year, but operators across the globe are already positioning themselves to be at the forefront of the technology.

Speaking to GTB, the EE source said: “We’re already running lab trials. Our plans are to launch field trials in 2018, and we expect to have a small commercial deployment in 2019, before rolling out our main 5G network in 2020.”

This follows a commitment from EE’s parent company BT to be the first operator in the UK with 5G services, made in February of this year.

EE’s plans could make it one of the first operators on the continent to launch a 5G, although It is competing closely with UK rival Vodafone, who is also looking to deploy 5G technology by 2019, according to a report on Light Reading. 

The report cited a Vodafone spokesperson who said its deployment plans are dependent on the upcoming 5G spectrum auction. Vodafone UK is working with Swedish vendor Ericsson on the deployment of 5G.

EE has already claimed to be the first operator in the UK to successfully demonstrate ‘groundbreaking’ mobile speeds bridging the gap between 4G and 5G connectivity. It also recently demonstrated Gigabit LTE that featured a number of technologies expected to be found in 5G, such as 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM.

In 2014, then Mayor of London Boris Johnson pledged to bring 5G services to London by 2020, but Europe has faced warnings from a number of industry bodies that it is at risk of lagging behind the US, Japan and South Korea.

This was denied by Rahim Tafazolli, the head of the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre, at a recent Huawei Innovation event. The 5GIC works with a number of UK operators including EE and Vodafone.

Answering a question from GTB, Tafazolli said no-one has yet launched 5G and said Europe is leading the way in the development of some technologies.

He added: “In 2018 we plan to do end-to-end 5G technology trials, in line with the UK government plans. If we do that, we will be first in the world to demonstrate it. 

“When people say they are going to deploy 5G this year or next year, I’m dubious. We don’t have the standards yet, so that is just pre-5G technology.

“The real deployment of 5G cannot be done before 2019. And there are UK operators who are planning to deploy 5G as early as-2019.”

It comes as the UK government has announced plans to put £16 million into a project to link 5G work by three universities, leading to end-to-end trials of the emerging mobile technology.