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5G is finally coming to the UK in July: Vodafone's network goes live in seven cities this summer

After years of promises and false starts, 5G is finally coming to seven cities across the UK from July.

Vodafone has announced plans to launch its 5G network in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London on 3 July 2019, followed by Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton later in the year.

It also plans to offer the world’s first 5G roaming plans covering the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain later this summer, and claims these 5G plans will cost the same as 4G for both consumer and business customers. 

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Ahead of the switch-on, Vodafone has put a number of 5G-ready handsets on offer including the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G, the Samsung S10 5G and Huawei Mate X (5G). The Xiaomi model is available exclusively from Vodafone from 23 May. The Samsung S10 5G will be available to pre-order “later this month” and the Huawei model is set to launch this summer. If you order the latter, you’ll get a 5G home router called the 5G Gigacube.

The promise of 5G in the UK has already been years in the making. In March 2017, the British government published its 5G strategy in which pledged to work with industry and public bodies to identify projects and committed to increasing access to spectrum for “the most innovative 5G services.”

 Ofcom has been auctioning off bands of the radio spectrum for use by the big four network operators – O2, Vodafone, Three and EE – and trials have been taking place across the country ever since.

EE, which owns the most combined 4G and 5G spectrum, had been expected to cross the line first by upgrading 1,500 sites in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester to 5G this summer. However, an exact date has not been revealed and Vodafone is likely to now pip them to the post.

O2 is focusing on Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London in the near future, and Three, which owns the least amount of spectrum, is yet to confirm its launch locations.

Vodafone trialled the first proper use of “full 5G” – that’s 5G ran on a separate network, rather than piggybacking on existing 4G infrastructure – at a site in Manchester’s MediaCity in January. The following month it switched on a 5G network at Manchester Airport.

Reports have suggested 5G will be 20 times faster than 4G, putting it on par with home broadband. Current 4G speeds reach up to 100Mbits/sec – and faster Gigabit LTE networks can reach around 1.2Gbits/sec. 5G speeds are expected to start at 1Gbit/sec and go up to 50Gbits/sec. These are, of course, theoretical maximums, but results in early tests and trials are already impressive.

EE hit 2.8Gbits/sec in lab conditions and 1.8Gbits/sec in trials, while Three Hong Kong recently reached download speeds of 3.2Gbits/sec in trials. Ofcom expects real-world speeds of between 10Gbits/sec and 50Gbits/sec once the technology matures. To put this into perspective, even at the lower end you could download a 100GB 4K movie file in just over a minute and a Blu-ray-quality full HD movie in under 20 seconds.

Vodafone’s 5G router could replace broadband contracts in homes and offices, especially those customers without access to a high-speed fixed line connection. It could even act as a second network, or be used for outdoor events.

READ NEXT: Best broadband 2019

5G is additionally designed to support a wider range of devices. It will go beyond smartphones and tablets to serve PCs, laptops, drones, driverless cars and a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and will spread traffic load across the spectrums a little more evenly. This should reduce lag and prevent any drop outs.

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