5G technology is arriving in the UK, and in a big way – and if you're wondering what 5G is, when you'll be able to get it, and which 5G phones you need, we're here to explain everything for you. Get right up to (super-fast) speed right here.
The brand new 5G standard promises a generational leap in terms of upload and download speeds, and you've already got a fine selection of 5G phones to pick from. As with any new technology though, the details can be difficult to get your head around, which is why we're here to help.
5G in the UK: what is 5G?
Like 4G before it, 5G represents a substantial jump forward in terms of the upload and download speeds you can expect on a cell network. The precise 5G speeds you get are going to vary depending on your device and signal strength, but data transfer rates should be vastly improved – so films download in seconds rather than minutes, for example.
5G is about much more than just speeds though: it's also about more capacity and more bandwidth. In other words, you shouldn't lose signal as easily when you're on a crowded train platform or at a football game. This increased capacity means more devices, from self-driving cars to home sensors, can be connected more of the time.
The radio waves that 5G uses to ferry data through the air are more compact than those used by 4G, which means more 1s and 0s packed into a tighter space. Even better, 5G chips and antennas are more compact and lightweight than their 4G predecessors, thanks to improvements in manufacturing technology.
5G in the UK: what phone do I need?
To take advantage of these ultra-fast speeds, you're going to need to upgrade your handset – a new 5G modem inside your phone is required to connect to 5G networks, and in 2019 the first 5G phones arrived in the UK. Of course these phones fall back to 4G or slower connection speeds whenever 5G isn't available.
Even in these early days, the choice of 5G phones is impressive, and more and more of these phones will start to appear over time. The Samsung Galaxy S10 and Samsung Galaxy Fold both have 5G models available, and there are phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G, and the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 to consider too.
Plenty more 5G phones are on the way in 2020: you can expect pretty much every phone maker to have some kind of 5G variant on offer. Apple is expected to join the party as well: it's not official yet, but the rumour is that we can look forward to a 5G iPhone in 2020.
5G UK networks: BT 5G UK
BT has launched a 5G service to "give customers the fastest, most reliable mobile connections". The news was confirmed in July 2019, with Marc Allera, CEO of BT's Consumer division saying that:
“We’re bringing together the best fibre and mobile connections to help keep our customers connected, both on the go and at home. Launching 5G for BT customers will give them the opportunity to experience the fastest mobile speeds in the busiest areas of the UK, and our BT Plus customers will have the first opportunity to sign up for 5G.”
BT's 5G service is now available in some parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol, with more to follow in 2020.
Unfortunately, to access this 5G goodness at the moment, BT has also confirmed that users will have to be BT Halo broadband customers (and you'll need a 5G phone, naturally). Current prices for Halo start at £57.99 a month.
5G UK networks: EE 5G UK
The EE roll out of 5G is already well underway: it's focusing on outdoors 5G coverage before moving inside, with the four capital cities of London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, joined by Birmingham and Manchester as the early beneficiaries.
Those cities have since been joined by Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol, though coverage in these locations is going to be limited to begin with. EE is also supporting the HTC 5G Mobile Smart Hub, which can serve up 5G speeds to other devices in your home.
In terms of handsets, the network has already signed exclusive deals with OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Oppo Reno, as well as 5G hotspot devices from LG, and HTC. All of these 5G devices are available from EE today, so you don't have to wait to take advantage of 5G.
5G UK networks: Vodafone 5G UK
Vodafone switched on its 5G UK phone network in July across seven UK cities: London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff. Since then, Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton have been added to the list.
Vodafone being one of the first UK networks to switch on its 5G service makes sense as it was one of the first major players to start testing 5G technologies, bringing 5G to Manchester Airport earlier this year.
More "travel hotspots" are going to be popping up around the country throughout the year as 5G becomes more widespread, too, Vodafone has said. By the end of 2019, it had rolled out 5G in 31 locations across the UK (and more in Europe).
These are the 5G phones Vodafone is offering on contract:
- Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G
- Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
- Huawei Mate 20X (5G)
- Samsung Galaxy A90 5G
5G UK networks: O2 5G UK
O2 has been rolling out its 5G technology over the course of 2019, with 20 towns and cities now connected up (and 30 more getting added in the first half of 2020). Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough and Leeds are already hooked up.
If you don't live in one of those cities, your wait is going to be slightly longer – O2 seems to want to wait for the mobile devices to hit the market first. "Other areas of the UK will enjoy roll out from 2020 to coincide with the wider availability of 5G handsets," according to the official press statement.
Those of you who live in a supported area can get 5G now, with O2 offering 5G phones including the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G, the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G, the Oppo Reno 5G, and the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G.
5G UK networks: Three 5G UK
Three has come out fighting in terms of 5G UK network coverage, promising to build the fastest 5G network in the UK. It's also taking its time though, with London the only city to get hooked up to its 5G speeds at the moment.
On the plus side, users will be able to get 5G at no extra cost to their existing SIM package, which makes the wait a little easier to bear. Locations including Bolton, Birmingham, Bristol, Bradford, Reading, Liverpool, Rotherham, Glasgow, Slough, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Leeds, Brighton, Manchester, Coventry, Cardiff, Derby, Hull, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Wolverhamption, Sunderland and Nottingham are next on the list.
You can already pick up a 5G phone from Three though – it's offering the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G phones on contract at the time of writing.