BT 5G

BT 5G

The network has confirmed that it will begin offering 5G services in 2019.

 

Launch Date

Launch Cities

Launch Devices

2019

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Likely to include Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

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TBC

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Although not a major mobile player currently, BT has the potential to be one of the biggest forces in 5G in the UK.

Not only does it own EE – which itself is the UK leader in 4G - but it’s also got plenty of infrastructure and resources of its own and has shown a big interest in 5G already, having partnered with various other organisations to work towards a 5G future.

Read on below for a look at the main 5G projects BT is involved in, along with information on BT’s eventual 5G launch.

Launch plans

Launch date

We know BT is well on the way to launching a 5G network. In fact, back in May 2018, Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT, told analysts that the network planned to launch 5G within 18 months, which would mean late 2019. That’s in line with EE, (which, don’t forget, BT owns) which made a similar claim in February 2018 and has since said more specifically that its 5G service will land this summer.

Launch cities

What we don’t know is which areas will get BT 5G first, but it will presumably offer 5G in the same locations as EE, a network which has revealed that it will first bring 5G to parts of London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester. Then, later in 2019 it will bring coverage to parts of Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.

We can’t be sure of course, but what we are sure of is that most of the first places to get BT 5G will be large urban areas, such as London and Manchester. Indeed, as the two most populated urban areas in the UK, these two cities specifically will probably get BT 5G from day one.

Launch devices

BT Mobile hasn’t yet said what 5G devices it will offer, but we know EE will stock the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, Huawei Mate X, OnePlus 5G, HTC 5G Mobile Smart Hub and potentially others, so don’t be surprised if BT has a similar selection.

Network

Network

BT has bought EE, which has the biggest and fastest 4G network in the UK, meaning that BT now has a whole lot of mobile infrastructure and know-how at its fingertips. That includes over 99% of the UK population and 91% of the UK geography covered with 4G.

That’s important as 4G is likely to be used in combination with 5G in the early days, and in some cases 5G infrastructure may be built on top of 4G infrastructure rather than building it from scratch.

Indeed, EE is currently working to upgrade many of its 3G sites to high-capacity ‘five carrier’ 4G, and has said that it will use these as foundations for 5G, later upgrading the sites to support the upcoming network technology.

But even outside of that, BT is a massive, rich company with plenty of telecommunications infrastructure of its own, so it arguably has more resources to put towards 5G than any of its rivals, as well as a stronger start through the infrastructure that’s already in place.

BT is also improving some of its own infrastructure. For example, it’s working on an upgrade that will significantly increase network capacity.

Spectrum holdings

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 at some point. And there might be more auctions in other bands too, with Ofcom set to discuss possibilities at WRC-19.

5G trials

BT is clearly serious about 5G, and it’s looking at the technology from a number of angles, but one of the core things that BT seems to be pushing for is flexible mobile networks, that can adapt to different needs and different numbers of users.

With that in mind, BT has teamed with Nokia to collaborate on the creation of 5G proof of concept trials, the development of emerging technology standards and equipment, and potential 5G use cases.

BT and Nokia are also researching the use of 5G to enable live virtual reality broadcasts. Video is a big use of 4G data and with the arrival of 5G live virtual reality should be very possible. With BT’s current interest in providing a TV service too there’s every chance that things like VR video and 8K video will be at the heart of its 5G ambitions.

And BT has also partnered with Huawei, for wide-ranging 5G research, including network architecture, network slicing, Internet of Things applications, 5G New Radio trials, and security technologies, with an ultimate goal of developing standardised 5G technologies.

It's also helped with a 5G trial in Bristol, aspects of which were open to the public, and it's revealed that it will use Nokia's ReefShark chipset, which could ease the rollout and cost of its 5G network.

BT is well on the way to beginning to build a 5G network too, having - along with 29 other companies - approved the first 5G New Radio specification.

So while BT is likely to build a flexible, video-focused 5G network, it’s also looking set to be one of the better prepared companies for 5G in general.

Of course, BT is also carrying out plenty of trials through EE, which itself launched the UK’s first live 5G trial and has followed that up with trials in nine other locations, all in parts of London.

Other development activities

One thing BT is actively working towards is 5G broadcasting, which should allow BT Sport to broadcast more games as soon as next season. The network is also researching edge cloud computing, which can help lower network congestion and latency.

BT also envisions that data demands will grow rapidly, especially once 5G is available, and as such it’s already working to develop affordable network infrastructure that will support those demands.

BT is also planning to bring superfast Wi-Fi and charging kiosks to UK streets. These aren’t dependant on 5G, but show that BT sees the importance of smart, connected devices in cities.

Of the plan, Gerry McQuade, CEO, BT Wholesale and Ventures, said: “We’re evolving the phone box to make it relevant in the 21st century by offering people ultrafast Wi-Fi and a range of digital and information services entirely for free.”

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