What is 5G and when will it launch in the UK? - 5G.co.uk

What is 5G

The first 5G services will be launched in multiple cities across the UK in 2019, introducing faster download speeds and better responsiveness than current 4G services. The new mobile technology is exciting not only because of the faster speeds for consumers and business users, but also because it enables a broad set of use cases that will benefit a variety of industrial sectors.  


1. What is 5G?

2. When will 5G arrive?

3. What benefits will 5G technology bring?

4. How will it change our lives?

5. How does it work?

6. Will I need a new phone?

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks. It follows previous mobile generations 2G, 3G and 4G. Compared to today’s networks (which primarily use 4G and 3G technology), 5G is set to be far faster and more reliable, with greater capacity and lower response times.

When will 5G arrive?

5G will be launched in the UK during 2019 by the four main mobile network operators. The precise dates have so far not been confirmed but three of the four operators have confirmed their launch locations. However, broad availability of 5G whereby most consumers can access it is still several years away.

Mobile Operator  

Launch Date  

Launch Cities



Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, London and Manchester 

More on EE's 5G launch



Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London

More on O2's 5G launch



Not confirmed

More on Three's 5G launch



Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Portsmouth, Southampton, Stoke and Wolverhampton

More on Vodafone's 5G launch

The country’s biggest mobile network, EE, has announced that it will launch 5G during the summer in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, London and Manchester. The operator also plans 5G launches in a further 10 cities by the end of 2019.

In Vodafone’s case, 5G will initially be coming to Birkenhead, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Guildford, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.

For O2, the launch locations include Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.

Three has not yet to confirmed where it will roll out 5G first.

Initially, 5G coverage will be limited to the most highly populated areas in the cities listed above. Since 5G phones are expected to start selling towards the end of 2019, the whole 5G revolution will really commence in 2020. Even then, we might not see widespread 5G coverage in the UK until 2022 or later.

Have any other countries launched yet?

Yes. 5G has already begun to roll out in countries like the US and South Korea, albeit in a limited form. For example, US mobile network operator AT&T launched a 5G service in 12 cities at the end of 2018, but the only device offered is a mobile hotspot from Netgear. U.S. operator Verizon switched on 5G in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis, and is offering one compatible smartphone.  In South Korea, mobile operators are also offering limited 5G coverage.

What benefits will 5G technology bring?

What is 5G

The benefits of the new 5G technology have far-reaching implications. Below, we run through the benefits that we feel will be of most interest to our readers, while the following section addresses how 5G will affect our lives. But ultimately one of the core features of 5G is having a fast, stable connection wherever you are and whatever you’re doing on your smartphone.


The headline benefit of 5G is speed. 5G is expected to be able to reach speeds in excess of 1Gb/s (1000Mbit/s) quite comfortably in its early stages. Many experts expect that it will be able to hit speeds of 10Gb/s (10000Mbit/s) eventually - that’s 100 times faster than standard 4G, and 30 times faster than advanced 4G standards like LTE-A.

Of course, there is always a caveat when it comes to wireless download speeds since the speed we experience in the real world depends on many factors, such as how far we are from a base station and how many other people are using the network at the same time. Along with the blazing fast peak data rates for 5G noted above, the user experienced data rate for downloads is expected to be a minimum of 100 Mbit/s (which is still very fast indeed).

Network type

Max download speeds

Time to download a full HD film



Over a day



Over 7 minutes



2.5 minutes


1-10Gbps (theoretical)

4-40 seconds


Arguably a bigger benefit with 5G will be low latency. With current 4G standards - and every generation of mobile network to date - there is a sizeable delay between a command being issued and a response being received. There’s latency of around 65ms (milliseconds) with 3G and around 40ms for advanced 4G, while the kind of "superfast" fixed broadband connection we get here in the UK attains between 10ms and 20ms.

5G will outstrip all of these standards by a considerable margin with potential for a near-instantaneous 1ms latency for mission-critical and Internet of Things applications as well as a target of 4ms for mobile broadband services. As we’ll discuss below, this single factor will pave the way for some thrilling new use cases like driverless cars, remote robotics, and advanced VR applications.

Network type

Approx. latency (ms)

3G Network

65ms (actual)

4G Network

40-50ms (actual)

5G Network

1ms (theoretical)

Greater capacity

5G will also have greater capacity than ever before, with access to more spectrum and at higher frequencies - most notably millimetre wave, which is the band of spectrum between 30Ghz and 300Ghz. This means that networks will be able to cope better with many high-demand applications all at once. It also means that 5G could even deliver a fibre-like experience for fixed wireless access applications. Indeed, some operators are considering 5G for serving broadband customers, especially in areas that are difficult to reach with fibre or traditional fixed-line infrastructure.

At present the quality of your 4G connection is largely dependent on the number of other mobile device connections in your immediate vicinity. There’s only so much capacity in any given area, which is why you often can’t get a signal at busy events. This won’t be as prevalent with 5G since it will have far greater headroom and the ability to scale intelligently according to each individual user’s specific data need.

Network slicing

As a sign of how intelligent and flexible 5G will be, a technique called network slicing will enable distinct virtual networks to be carved out within the physical network environment. As such, expect to see many more Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) popping up, increasing competition and potentially forcing down mobile plan prices.

Benefits for business

As well as benefiting consumers 5G could also benefit businesses in big ways. Workers will be able to work remotely more easily, operate machinery from afar and be more “present” without actually being present, through capabilities like 4K, AR, VR and holographic calls. In turn they’ll be able to free up more time and be more productive, as less travel will be needed, and when travel is needed 5G could speed that up too, thanks to smart and automated transport.

As noted above, 5G will enable network slicing too, which in turn will allow companies to essentially have their own private networks, tailored completely to their needs. And more jobs and processes can be automated with 5G, because it will have the speed, capacity and latency required, which will improve operational efficiency.

5G could also better connect rural communities, opening up more opportunities for businesses in these regions. 5G could even pave the way to whole new products and industries that aren’t viable with 4G. With all these benefits, 5G could create 22 million jobs, and lead to the production of up to $12.3 trillion (£9.3 trillion) of goods and services by 2035, according to Qualcomm.

How will It change our lives?

5G use cases

Faster and more reliable

5G will enable you to download a movie in seconds, or to stream a 4K movie without any buffering. We’re also likely to see a big leap forward in virtual and augmented reality applications, as 5G’s low latency and high capacity will enable advanced processing to be handled remotely rather than locally on mobile devices and headsets.

That greater capacity will also lead to an explosion in IoT (Internet of Things) devices, with everything from fridges and lights to cars and advertising hoardings connecting to one another. IoT applications are starting to take off anyway, but with the speed and capacity delivered by 5G we might one day see almost every device become ‘smart’ and connected.

So far, these applications have been enhancements of what we already have, but 5G is set to enable all-new markets. Experts say that 5G will be fundamental to the rise of autonomous cars, because they will need a constant low latency connection to the internet - and to one another.

5G will also be essential for other ‘critical’ scenarios such as remote surgery, with doctors controlling medical robots from across the world. The ability to monitor and control robots, drones, and even whole factories remotely and in real time will prove transformative in the world of industry, too.

We’ve already seen an excavator remotely controlled from the other side of the world in a 5G trial, while 5G is also already effectively being used in health and social care trials.

Productivity savings

In a March 2018 report, O2 forecasts that 5G will earn the UK £6 billion a year through productivity savings. It also finds that 5G-enabled tools such as smart fridges, smart grids and electric autonomous vehicles will save householders £450 a year through lower food, council and fuel bills.

Optimised services, driven by the likes of smart bins and intelligent lighting, could save councils £2.8 billion a year too. Further, the analysis suggests that because 5G will enable wider use of remote health services, the NHS will see 1.1 million GP hours a year freed up.

Billions added to UK economy per year

Qualcomm meanwhile estimates that by 2035, 5G will support the production of up to £8.5 trillion worth of goods and services. Elsewhere, research from Barclays Corporate Banking has found that 5G could add £15.7 billion per year to the UK economy by 2025.

The truth is we don’t know everything that 5G will deliver yet. Because it is set to be such a revolutionary technology, it is likely to be used to create services and applications we haven’t even imagined yet.

How does it work?

All wireless communications carry over the air via radio frequencies or spectrum. 5G will use higher radio frequencies that are less cluttered and capable of carrying more information at a faster rate.

Although higher bands are faster, they are less well suited to carrying information over long distances, in part because they are easy to block with physical objects such as buildings and trees. To this end, 5G will employ multiple input and multiple output (MIMO) antennae to boost signals and capacity, and will also rely on lots of smaller transmitters stationed on buildings and street furniture rather than singular stand-alone masts. Estimates suggest that this means 5G will support up to 1,000 more devices per metre than 4G.

Another change with 5G is that operators will be able to ‘slice’ a physical network into multiple virtual networks – they will be able to deliver the right slice of network depending on how it is being used, and therefore manage their networks better. For example, an autonomous car has different network requirements to a simple IoT device, and a single user streaming a Netflix video requires a different slice of capacity to a business.

Talking of businesses, they will be able to rent their own slice of the 5G network that will be completely isolated and insulated from the stresses and strains of surrounding Internet traffic.

Will I need a new phone?

5G phones

Yes. There are no phones currently available in the UK that support 5G (as of April 2019),  but you’ll be able to get one fairly soon.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is already on sale in South Korea and at the time of writing the 5G-enabled LG V50 ThinQ is about to be too. In the US meanwhile you can get 5G from a Moto Z3 equipped with a 5G Moto Mod. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5GHuawei Mate X and others will be sold in some regions before long too.

As for 5G phones in the UK, expect them to start arriving alongside 5G networks from this summer.

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About James Rogerson

Sub-Editor at 5G.co.uk

James is sub-editor at both 5G.co.uk and TechRadar. Also works as a researcher/ technical writer for 5G.co.uk and several other websites including TechRadar, T3, Smart TV Radar, 3G.co.uk with work on the web, in print and on TV.

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