Asda Mobile 5G in the UK

Asda Mobile 5G

Updated: 21st September, 2018

Asda Mobile might not be the most obvious choice of network, but just like the supermarket it’s associated with its prices are low. It also has short-term plans, making it more flexible than many rivals, and it uses EE’s infrastructure, so it’s got strong coverage.

That makes it worth considering now, but what about when 5G arrives? While there’s no firm answer to what Asda Mobile’s network will look like then, or when or even whether it will support 5G, there are some clues, which we’ll look at below.

Network and launch plans

Network

Asda Mobile uses EE’s network and that’s a good thing, as EE has a bigger and faster 4G network than rivals (currently offering over 99% UK population coverage), so with that head start in place it’s possible that it will also launch 5G first and/or expand faster than the competition.

That’s relevant because Asda Mobile can only offer 5G where and when EE does, so the sooner EE launches a 5G service and the bigger its network grows, the better for Asda Mobile.

EE’s 4G network is also lower latency than rivals according to OpenSignal’s April 2018 mobile networks report, among others, which also benefits Asda Mobile. Low latency is expected to be a key feature of 5G and on the strength of its current network it’s possible that EE/Asda could be a leader there.

Spectrum holdings

Asda Mobile doesn’t have any of its own spectrum, instead it relies on EEs, a network which has more spectrum in total than any other UK network.

It’s also been building up its holdings of 5G spectrum, having come out of Ofcom’s first 5G spectrum auction with 40Mhz of 3.4GHz spectrum, for which it paid £302,592,000. You can see an overview of its spectrum in the chart below.

Immediately useable spectrum

3.4GHz held

3.4GHz allocation

Total spectrum held

255MHz

40Mhz

3540 – 3580MHz

295MHz

Note: 'Immediately useable spectrum' refers to spectrum in various bands that can be used now for 4G, 3G and 2G. EE holds spectrum in the 800MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz bands.

Of course, the other major networks also won spectrum in the auction, but it’s still a good start on EE’s part and it is likely just the start, as there are set to be additional 5G auctions for spectrum in the 3.6GHz - 3.8GHz bands as well as the 700MHz band. There may also be other spectrum auctioned for use with 5G, with Ofcom set to discuss potential bands at WRC-19.

Launch plans

As for when 5G might be available on EE (and by extension Asda Mobile), Marc Allera, Chief Executive Officer of EE, said back in February 2018 that it could just be "18 months or so" away, so the wait might be shorter than you'd expect.

In other words then EE is likely to launch a commercial 5G network sometime in late 2019. And it sounds like EE is on schedule, because in September 2018 it reiterated that it would launch 5G during 2019, as well as announcing that it was laying some foundations for it in upgrading more than 500 mobile towers from 3G to high-capacity 4G.

As for where it will initially launch its 5G service we can only guess for now, but major cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham are likely. For reference, it initially rolled out 4G to Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton.

Of course whenever and wherever EE launches its 5G network, there’s no guarantee that Asda Mobile will have access to it from day one.

Current trial and development activities

5G trials

As with everything else, it’s not so much Asda Mobile that we need to look at here as EE. For its part, EE is already carrying out 5G trials, with a focus on speed. For example, it reached download speeds of 2.8Gbps in one case.

And even on its real-world 4G network it's achieved an impressive 750Mbps using Gigabit LTE. So as with 4G it might make speed a focus.

Of course, Asda Mobile may well only offer standard 5G speeds even if the infrastructure is capable of higher, much like it only offers standard 4G speeds even though EE can go much faster.

That could be in order to keep prices low, or simply because EE hasn’t made higher speeds available to MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), but it’s at least possible that Asda Mobile will tap into faster 5G speeds if EE offers them, and if any network is going to push beyond standard 5G, it’s EE.

Other 5G trials and developments from EE include 5G New Radio tests, tests of pre-5G backhaul technology, and plans to launch a live 5G trial network in London’s Tech City in October.

Other development activities

For a long time EE has been thinking about how a 5G network might ‘look’, and the answer could be very different to 4G. 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.”

So that’s one area of development that could shape EE’s – and by extension Asda Mobile’s – 5G network.

EE is also a member of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey and one of the founding members of the LTE-Broadcast Alliance – a group focused on the development of LTE-B, which is a technology that could be used alongside 5G.

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