50,000 5G smartphone arrivals in the UK during 2019

By Ken Wieland 21 January 2019

5G smartphones

Out of a projected worldwide total of one million 5G-ready smartphones, shipped in 2019, business advisory firm Deloitte reckons 50,000 will arrive in the UK. Of the UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs), BT-owned EE and Vodafone seem the most bullish in being ready to support 5G’s early adopters (see table).   

Although no more than the size of a half-decent attendance at a football match, Deloitte’s prediction of 50,000 5G smartphone users in the UK – before the year is out – is something of an industry turning point. No longer is 5G an abstract future prospect; it’s pretty much round the corner.

Deloitte thinks the first commercial batch of 5G smartphones will start trickling into the UK in the quarter ended 30 June 2019. More surprisingly perhaps, the consultancy believes there will be as many as some 20 handset vendors at the ready with 5G smartphones this year. There are is no shortage of guesses about which supplier will be first out of the 5G gate. South Korea’s Samsung and LG, however, seem to be among the favourites. Mobile World Congress, in February, looks a likely venue to unveil the first crop of 5G mobile devices.

There are still unknowns. How much are the new smartphones likely to cost, and how good will the battery life be? What is almost certain, is that 5G smartphones will form only a tiny fraction of smartphone shipments in the next few years.

Deloitte calculates that around 1.5 billion smartphones will be sold around the world during 2019, and that 5G handset sales (15–20 million units) during 2020 will represent a meagre 1% of all smartphone sales.

In the UK, Deloitte projects 5G smartphone sales to fall between two and three million next year. It’s not until 2025 that Deloitte expects “mass adoption” in developed markets.

Part of the reason for slow 5G phone uptake will be the availability of 5G networks, some of which will come sooner than others and all of which will take quite a while to provide comprehensive coverage. In the table below, you can see the current stance of all four main UK MNOs.

MNO

5G trials/rollouts

EE

Aims to “switch on“ 5G within 16 UK cities during 2019. Phase one covers the “busiest locations” across London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Phase two cities are Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. More coverage details

Telefónica UK (O2)

In November 2018, announced a ‘massive’ MIMO trial – in collaboration with Nokia – in parts of London (King’s Cross and Marble Arch). The MNO believes antenna configurations of this sort will provide the foundation of 5G. As far as 5G.co.uk can determine, O2 has not explicitly stated an intention to launch 5G during 2019.  The MNO seems to be betting on a 2020 launch. More coverage details

Three

Boasts of “£2bn+” infrastructure investment programme, which includes funds for 5G preparation and a launch in 2019. Like O2, Three doesn’t commit on a 2019 launch, but hints strongly that it will. The MNO expects first commercial quantities of 5G smartphones to be available H2 2019. Three says it “fully supports” the government’s ambition to roll out 5G “as quickly as possible”. More coverage details

Vodafone

Started trial of “live” 5G traffic in Salford, Manchester, in October 2018. At the time, Vodafone said it was looking to “shortly” roll out 5G-ready base stations in parts of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. The MNO aims to bring 5G to the Scottish Highlands, Cornwall and the Lake District, “among other locations”, during 2019. More coverage details

About Ken Wieland

Ken Wieland has been a telecoms journalist and editor for more than 20 years. That includes an eight-year stint as editor of Telecommunications magazine (international edition), three years as editor of Asian Communications, and nearly two years at Informa Telecoms & Media, specialising in mobile broadband. As a telecoms writer Ken has written various industry reports for The Economist Group.

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