Vodafone first to confirm 5G launch date

14 May 2019   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Network will switch on 5G services in the UK for the first time on 3 July, making them the first UK operator to confirm a launch date.

Seven cities will benefit from the initial switch-on: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London.

A further twelve locations are also scheduled to receive Vodafone 5G services before the end of 2019.

These are: Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.

Pricing is to be kept at the same level as 4G services and new 5G-compatible phones will be launched in the coming months to accommodate the new technology.

However, with Huawei equipment being used in non-core Vodafone operations, there remains the possibility that timetables could yet slip.

vodafone mobile phone
Credit: Piotr Swat/Shutterstock.com

Vodafone leading 5G pack

The race to bring 5G technology to consumers has been a focus of all four mobile operators in recent years, but Vodafone have become the first one to specify a commercial launch date.

Their announcement confirms that compatible phones and a 5G router for home use will be released over the summer, with the first compatible phone being launched next week.

Vodafone's emphasis in their press release is the impact the switch-on could have for businesses as they highlight their new sponsorship and technology deal with Wasps and the Ricoh Arena to take 5G into the stadium.

By defining a date for the switch-on, Vodafone have leapfrogged EE who have only so far stated that 16 locations will benefit from their initial launches in 2019.

That said, EE have been upfront about their launches only covering the busiest areas of the launch cities including Edinburgh Waverley railway station, the Bullring in Birmingham and Manchester Arena.

Vodafone's press release doesn't specify that 5G will only be available in certain locations of the launch cities, so hopefully their launch will be more wide-ranging than EE's is anticipated to be.

In addition, Vodafone have also committed themselves to offering 5G roaming in three European countries: Germany, Italy and Spain.

5G smartphones

Four 5G-ready smartphones will be available to purchase by Vodafone customers ahead of the 5G switch on: Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G, Samsung S10 5G, Huawei Mate 20 X (5G) and Huawei Mate X (5G). A home router called the 5G Gigacube will also launch in the summer.

The first phone to hit the market will be the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G. It will be initially be available exclusively from Vodafone and released on 23 May.

Vodafone appear to have prioritised infrastructure announcements over the announcement of individual smartphone partnerships, while EE have been more vocal about the phones their bringing to the market.

For example, EE have recently announced they will be the exclusive UK operator for the Oppo Reno 5G when it launches this year.

In addition, the OnePlus 5G smartphone (due to be unveiled today by the manufacturer) is expected to be released to EE customers this month.

The Huawei factor

While the 5G switch-on is momentous news for Vodafone, future progress could be hampered if Huawei are refused permission for their equipment to be used in the UK's telecommunications network.

A recent Government leak suggested Huawei will be given the go-ahead and the National Cyber Security Centre concluded in February that any risks from the Chinese technology company can be handled.

Even so, a final decision has yet to be announced and allies including the US are putting pressure on the UK to restrict Huawei's involvement on the grounds of national security.

Vodafone currently use kit from both Huawei and Ericsson in their non-core infrastructure, meaning it isn't used for things such as billing and routing of voice and data.

However, Vodafone have previous admitted that stripping out Huawei technology used in its 4G services in the event of a ban would take up many of their engineering resources.

This could prove to be a stumbling block for their wider 5G rollout across the country later in the year.

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