O2 has confirmed that it will launch 5G at some point in 2019.
5G Launch Date
5G Launch Cities
5G Launch Devices
Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
O2 has come out of the first 5G spectrum auction with more winnings than any rival, putting it in a strong early position for 5G.
On top of that it’s working to strengthen its current network as well as trialling 5G technologies and it’s even revealed roughly when and where it plans to launch a live 5G network.
Read on for full details of all this and more, so you can get a complete picture of O2 5G in the UK.
O2 has said that it will start rolling 5G out in 2019. It hasn’t said exactly when, but we wouldn’t expect it to arrive before the second half of the year.
That’s seemingly ahead of schedule, as previously the network has said that it wouldn’t commercially launch 5G before 2020.
It also went a step further, branding any network’s pre-2020 launch as ‘5G lite’, because it will be using ‘non-standalone’ architecture.
O2 hasn’t been shy about saying that it would rely on similar technologies initially though, as an O2 spokesperson said: “Everyone in the world (including O2 in the UK) is expected to deploy 5G using a ‘non-standalone’ architecture to start with but it’s the ‘standalone’ version which comes after that and will offer the complete 5G experience.”
So in other words, the experience and capabilities of 5G will probably improve in the years following launch.
O2 has also confirmed that Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London will be the first four cities to get 5G on its network.
The cities – which essentially cover the four corners of the UK – are all set to get O2 5G at some point in 2019. Other parts of the UK meanwhile will get 5G starting from 2020.
We don’t know which are places will be next in line, but rural areas likely to be left until last in general.
That’s just speculation, but it would make sense for O2 and other networks to initially focus on population centres. Still, there’s a chance the roll out will be faster than 4G was, as 5G is clearly important to the network, given that in a report it has found that 5G could lead to £6 billion a year in productivity savings.
O2 has confirmed that it will be stocking the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G when it launches later this year. Presumably that will also make it a launch device on O2's 5G network if the timings line up. The Galaxy S10 5G has a 6.7-inch QHD+ screen, four cameras on the back, two on the front, a 4,500mAh battery and loads of power, so should be worthy of being one of the first 5G phones.
O2 hasn't yet revealed what other 5G phones it will stock at launch, but a number have now been announced, such as the ZTE Axon 10 Pro and Huawei Mate X, so these could be sold on the network too, but nothing is known for sure yet. We’ll update this section when we hear more.
O2 has around 99% UK population coverage with 4G, which suggests that by the time 5G arrives that figure will be more or less 100% and that’s important, as early 5G won’t be available everywhere and could sometimes fall back on 4G infrastructure, so with O2 you should get a solid experience in those early days.
O2’s widespread 4G coverage also suggests that it will have a similar goal for 5G – though note that every other UK network also now has widespread 4G, so this isn’t unique to O2.
One advantage O2 might have over rivals though is its network of 15,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. With 5G – particularly in the early days – likely to work in combination with other network types, having access to free Wi-Fi could be beneficial to O2 customers.
Another advantage O2 could have is the potential for sharing Vodafone’s 5G infrastructure, as is currently planned, which would give both networks a boost.
O2 is also working to strengthen its network even ahead of a 5G launch. You’ll find full details of that below, but in short, it’s both installing small cells and adding dark fibre to its network.
O2 won 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum at Ofcom’s 5G spectrum auction, paying £317,720,000. Its 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum covered the 3500MHz – 3540MHz part of the band and the amount it acquired is more than Three and equal to EE, with only Vodafone acquiring more in this band.
But O2 also won all 40MHz of the 2.3GHz spectrum that was being auctioned, at a cost of £205,896,000. The 2.3GHz spectrum is immediately useable, while the 3.4GHz band will be useful for 5G.
Immediately useable spectrum
|3.4GHz held||3.4GHz allocation||Total spectrum held|
Note: 'Immediately useable spectrum' refers to spectrum in various bands that can be used now for 4G, 3G and 2G. O2 holds spectrum in the 800MHz, 900MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.1GHz and 2.3GHz bands.
These combined winnings almost double O2’s total spectrum holdings, though some networks still have more.
However, there’s set to be more 5G spectrum auctions, with spectrum in the 3.6GHz - 3.8GHz bands and the 700MHz band planned for release, followed potentially by spectrum in other bands, which Ofcom will discuss at WRC-19, so O2 will have the chance to increase its holdings.
O2 has launched a 5G testbed at the O2 Arena. Initially, 5G will be available in the O2 blueroom VIP bar, but by the end of 2020 the network aims to blanket the entire arena in 5G.
Visitors to the O2 Arena will be able to enjoy 5G demonstrations of things like virtual reality, augmented reality and live streaming applications.
But the testbed isn't just aimed at members of the public, as O2 has also invited every FTSE 100 company in the UK to participate in its 5G trials, in the hopes of understanding better which processes and use cases would benefit the most from 5G technology.
O2 has also launched two Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) trials in King’s Cross and Marble Arch. This tech can make network’s more efficient and is set to be a key component of 5G.
Plus, O2 is also running a trial of Li-Fi technology, which it says is part of its network trials towards launching 5G.
We expect O2 will hold more 5G trials ahead of launch and we’ll update this page as soon as we hear about them.
Other development activities
O2 has spent £80 million installing a network of around 1,400 small cells across Greater London and will be working with Arqiva to install 300 more. Small cells can boost signal indoors and out, and are expected to be vital to any 5G network.
And it looks as though Zayo Group Holdings (a bandwidth infrastructure company) will be providing O2 with 1,100 miles of dark fibre to connect some of the network’s data centres.
On that note, the network has also partnered with SSE Enterprise Telecoms to use fibre to connect its cell sites and masts in London. This is another infrastructure upgrade that could really help with 5G.
The company has also announced that it is looking to transform its traditional Network Operations Centre (NOC) into a Service Operations Centre (SOC), a move which could help it detect problems before customers notice them, which in turn could help its 5G network feel more reliable.
O2 is also helping to carry out driverless car trials between Oxford and London. The trials are taking place on existing technology, but 5G is likely to be the thing that helps driverless cars take off, so O2 should have some early expertise.
Similarly, O2 is working to launch a region-wide 5G testbed in the midlands, which among other things will be used for autonomous vehicle trials.
And the company is creating 5G innovation spaces across the country, which will help businesses develop and trial 5G use cases.
O2 could also put a focus on 5G’s role in business and healthcare, as the company has outlined some of the ways that 5G could revolutionize these industries.
Prior to all this, the network conducted a study into the likely effects of 5G on the post-Brexit economy. The study concludes that the UK is set to reach a ‘tipping point’ by 2026 that will see the economic benefits of 5G overtaking those of fibre broadband.
By that point the study claims that “national 5G infrastructure will directly contribute an additional £7 billion a year to the UK economy”. It’s worth pointing out that this economic impact will be achieved just six years on from 5G’s initial rollout, which represents twice the speed that fibre broadband took to make a similar impact.