EE is rolling out the UK’s first 5G network after years of hype around the fabled new internet service.
For now, the network will only reach the busiest parts of the four capital cities plus Birmingham and Manchester, where EE says it will “make the biggest difference to the most people”.
It won’t come cheap and it won’t be available everywhere, but it’s the start of what experts believe can bring “great benefits” to the country – in more ways than your ability to stream movies and play games.
With Vodafone preparing its own 5G launch in July and others expected to follow suit in 2019, this year could be the start of a new technological era.
But what does this mean for you and what difference will it actually make?
So what is 5G?
5G is the next generation of mobile data communications, with mobile internet speeds potentially several times greater than that of 4G.
Until now, 4G has been the fastest data network so, naturally, 5G is the upgrade.
It’s difficult to say exactly how much quicker 5G will be than 4G. Carphone Warehouse claims 5G can offer speeds up to 1,000 times faster than 4G, which means you could download a full HD movie in a matter of seconds.
This doesn’t mean 5G will replace 4G. Anyone with a phone or device connected to 5G will still have access to 4G in areas without the 5G network.
In fact, when you’re connected to 5G you’re actually using the combined power of 4G and 5G at the same time.
It’s about more than just faster speed. It’s hoped that 5G networks will support thousands more devices than 4G, which could improve public services and healthcare. But more on that later.
How do I get it and how much will it cost?
Unfortunately, you can’t just upgrade to 5G from your mobile if it isn’t already compatible with the network.
You’ll need to buy a handset that can work on 5G – like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and OPPO Reno 5G.
It’s bad news for iPhone owners though, as no Apple phones are 5G ready at the moment.
With EE, the cheapest bill for 5G access stands at £54 per month on top of a one-off £170 payment for the compatible phone.
That’s not much more expensive than the 4G equivalent, which sets you back the amount per month with a £70 payment for the phone.
Bear in mind, however, that’s just for 10GB per month, which may not be enough if you plan on truly taking full advantage of 5G.
If you want 30GB, you’ll have to fork out at least £64 each month and £50 for the device. For 60GB it’s £69 every month with a £30 fee for the phone.
How much of a difference does it make?
Network providers will tell you that’s money well spent, with faster speeds and a more reliable connection.
EE claims 5G has the potential to give customers 1Gbps speeds to their smartphones and can reduce latency – how long you wait for an action on your device.
You may be most likely to notice the difference it makes at packed events or sports venues, where 4G users can typically experience slow internet and download speeds.
This can happen when too many people try to connect in one place at the same time.
Because 5G has a greater bandwidth, it can support many more devices. This means you can still rely on your mobile network even in a packed stadium.
Festival-goers at Glastonbury this summer will be able to see for themselves, with EE providing 5G for the event.
This greater bandwidth can revolutionise public services, media watchdog Ofcom believes, because thousands more devices can be connected at one time.
Ofcom, which hopes the UK will become a “world leader” in 5G, transport networks could be improved and local authorities could use it to improve traffic management and street lighting.
It could also bring changes to healthcare. For example, students could practice surgery in connected, virtual reality environments that reflect a real-life experience.
Is 5G bad for my health?
There have been claims made about 5G’s ‘millimetre wave’ technology posing a potential health risk.
But EE insists operators will not be launching 5G with millimetre wave frequencies in the UK in 2019.
The service provider says its 5G network will be initially rolled out on a radio spectrum not dissimilar to 4G, 3G, and 2G networks.
The International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection informs the Health & Safety Executive and Public Health England on power levels.
Together, they act as a watchdog and EE says all 5G is being rolled out within heir guidelines.
The NHS published findings from a Health Protection Agency report in 2012 concluding there is “no convincing evidence” that mobile phones cause cancer.
However, the review noted mobile phones have only been in widespread public use relatively recently and there is little information on any health risks beyond 15 years of use.
EE says on its website: “It’s important to point out that no health risks have been established from exposure to the low-level radio signals used for mobile communications (and WiFi), and this includes 5G Operators in the US have chosen to use the higher frequency mmWave spectrum, and there is no danger associated to that - because all new wireless technologies are rolled out under similar strict guidelines.”
Which other networks will offer 5G?
Vodafone will be launching 5G on July 3 this year in Glasgow, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol.
It will then continue the rollout in Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton later this year.