BT 5G coverage and roll-out

BT has the potential to be one of the biggest forces in 5G in the UK when it launches its service this autumn.

Not only does it own EE – which itself is the UK leader in 4G - but it has also got plenty of infrastructure and resources of its own and has announced its 5G plans.

Read on below for a look at BT’s 5G spectrum, planned coverage, and more.

Coverage

BT doesn’t yet have any 5G coverage, but it has announced that it will be launching its 5G network at some point this autumn. We also know that – unsurprisingly since it owns EE – it will offer coverage in the same places as EE.

Which cities will have BT 5G at launch?

At launch parts of the following six cities will have BT 5G coverage. Other places may do too if EE has expanded its coverage by then, but BT’s 5G coverage is set to mirror EE’s, and at the time of writing that means the six cities below.

  • London
  • Manchester
  • Edinburgh
  • Birmingham
  • Cardiff
  • Belfast

How do I check BT 5G coverage?

BT Mobile has an online coverage checker where you can enter your postcode to view coverage in your area. At the time of writing it only shows 4G, 3G and 2G coverage, but when its 5G network launches that’s sure to be added.

However, if you want an idea of what coverage will be like ahead of that, you can always use EE’s coverage checker, as that already includes 5G coverage and BT’s will be the same once it’s offered.

In any case, you should definitely check the 5G coverage in your area before buying a 5G phone or plan, as it won’t initially be available everywhere, even within the cities that have partial coverage.

Check BT coverage

How does BT's 5G coverage compare to the other mobile networks?

Currently BT doesn’t have any 5G coverage. At the time of writing EE and Vodafone are the only UK networks with any 5G coverage, but Three will be bringing 5G to London in August, while BT itself will be launching 5G at some point this autumn. The chart below details current and near-future coverage from the main UK networks.

5G launch cities plus imminent launches

Cities

EE

Vodafone

Three

O2

BT

Belfast

Launched

2020

2020

Summer

Autumn

Birmingham

Launched

Launched

2019

?

Autumn

Bristol

2019

Launched

2019

?

2019

Cardiff

Launched

Launched

2019

Summer

Autumn

Edinburgh

Launched

2020

2019

Summer

Autumn

Glasgow

2019 Launched 2019 ? 2019

Liverpool

2019 Launched 2019 ? 2019

London

Launched

Launched

August

Summer

Autumn

Manchester

Launched Launched 2019 ? Autumn

If your location is not listed in the table above, then check below to see if you will get BT 5G in 2019 or later.

What locations will BT 5G roll out to next?

By the end of 2019 BT 5G will be available in parts of the following places:

  • Glasgow
  • Newcastle
  • Liverpool
  • Leeds
  • Hull
  • Sheffield
  • Nottingham
  • Leicester
  • Coventry
  • Bristol

Note that some of these locations may have BT 5G from day one, along with the six cities listed above, but that's to be confirmed.

Check BT coverage

Which other locations are scheduled to get BT 5G?

BT itself hasn’t said much about its 5G plans beyond 2019, but since it’s sharing infrastructure with EE, we only need to look at what that network is doing. EE then has said that it will switch on over 100 5G sites every month, and that in 2020 the following places (likely among others) will get 5G:

  • Aberdeen
  • Cambridge
  • Derby
  • Gloucester
  • Peterborough
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth
  • Southampton
  • Wolverhampton
  • Worcester
  • plus more locations TBC

BT Mobile’s coverage in places that get 5G on day one is sure to improve too, but it might be years before the UK has comprehensive 5G coverage from BT or any other network.

What happens if I’m not in a 5G coverage area?

If you’re not in a 5G coverage area then you can still use your phone even on a 5G plan, you’ll simply access 4G or 3G, just like you would have been doing for years before 5G arrived. You can see an overview of BT’s 4G coverage below.

4G coverage / comparison

With the might of EE behind it, BT’s 4G coverage is very strong, as the chart below shows. Note that coverage is based on the latest available data at the time of writing.

Network

4G population coverage

BT (EE)

>99%

Three

99.8%

Vodafone

99%

O2

99%


 

5G coverage abroad

At the time of writing BT hasn’t outlined any plans for 5G speeds when roaming. We’ll update this section if/when it does.

Speed and latency

5G is much faster and lower latency than 4G. As for exactly how fast BT’s will be, that remains to be seen, but it’s likely to be similar to EE’s, which we have some data on.

Current speeds

EE says that for now its 5G users should expect speeds that are around 100-150Mbps faster than 4G on average. That means you’re probably looking at typical speeds of roughly 130Mbps – 240Mbps. At the top end though speeds on EE 5G can supposedly exceed 1Gbps. So assuming BT’s speeds are similar, you can expect the 5G experience to be very fast.

Future speeds

EE’s 5G roadmap suggests its 5G may get even faster in 2022 and 2023, though exactly how much faster and how much this will also benefit BT remains to be seen.

Estimates for potential future 5G speeds are all over the place, but some have suggested that it could eventually reach or exceed 10Gbps.

Latency

We don’t know how low BT’s 5G latency will be yet, but in theory latency on 5G can be as little as around 1 millisecond (ms).

That’s a big improvement on the 40-50ms typically seen on 4G, and could be hugely beneficial, as latency is how long a network takes to even respond to a request – so a high latency can hold things up even with superfast data.

BT spectrum

BT didn’t directly acquire any spectrum at Ofcom’s first 5G spectrum auction, but EE which it owns and shares spectrum with did.

That network acquired 40Mhz of 3.4GHz spectrum. It paid £302,592,000 for the spectrum in the 3540MHz – 3580MHz part of the band.

That’s more 3.4GHz spectrum than Three came away from the auction with, but the same amount as O2 (which additionally won some 2.3GHz spectrum) and less than Vodafone.

That said, EE still has more spectrum in total than any other UK network as it had more before the auction, though much of it isn’t as ideal for 5G as the 3.4GHz band. You can see an overview of its total spectrum holdings 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. BT holds spectrum in the 800MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz bands.

And there’s time to build on that total, as Ofcom plans to auction spectrum in the 700MHz and 3.6GHz – 3.8GHz bands as well probably as the 8GHz and 26GHz bands at some point. And there might be more auctions in other bands too, with Ofcom set to discuss possibilities at WRC-19.

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