EE plugs transport hubs as priority for 5G

As telcos jostle for top-spot in the 5G stakes EE has added further colour to its network deployment plans, with the UK’s busiest transport hubs taking priority.

Having switched on, albeit very limited, 5G coverage in 20 cities around the UK, EE is surging ahead to expand the coverage of the high-speed airwaves. As is the standard approach to deploying a new network, the busiest hubs for connectivity are first on the agenda, with the green light lit in London Waterloo, Liverpool Street and Charing Cross train stations.

“Switching on 5G in more busy places will help to keep our customers connected to the things that matter to them the most,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division.

“Our engineers are building new 5G sites every day and increasing capacity on 4G sites – all part of our ambition to keep all of our customers connected 100% of the time.”

Although some might be a bit irked that train stations are getting 5G exposure rather than their home or office, it does make sense for the telcos. These are areas which are subject to congestion and notable network strain during peak hours, and let’s not forget, 5G offers greater spectral efficiency to ensure more devices can be connected simultaneously. Addressing these network congestion challenges will be a key objective to improve customer experience.

Aside from the three stations named above, Highbury and Islington station, New Cross Gate Overground station and Shoreditch High Street Overground station are further London sites which will be given the 5G connectivity buzz. Outside of London, Market Street on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Belfast’s Great Northern Mall and City Hall, Cardiff’s St David’s shopping centre and Morgan Arcade and Albert Square in Manchester will also get the 5G upgrade.

The coverage map is gradually becoming more attractive for those considering a 5G contract, though there are still concerns about whether enough attention is being paid to 4G networks.

“5G will undoubtably unlock a range of exciting new consumer and business use cases,” said Ingo Flomer, CTO at Cobham Wireless. “However, there aren’t many 5G handsets available and in use today. Commuters still rely on 4G to access work emails or enjoy video streaming while on the move.

“Getting reliable 4G mobile coverage is still a challenge for commuters on lots of the UK’s most popular rail routes, as well as in stations, but it needn’t be such a hurdle. Solutions exist that can overcome the challenge of providing reliable voice and data coverage in stations and rail lines – an important part of the passenger experience.

“There will come a time when blanket 5G coverage is needed. Now, however, it is important to deliver adequate 4G mobile coverage to guarantee quality of service for consumers, and support business and operator growth in all areas in the UK.”

Flomer has a genuine point. Everyone who regularly uses public transport across the UK, or use stations outside of London, will have come across the same frustrations. Inconsistent and unreliable 4G connectivity.

According to the latest Ofcom Connected Nations report, only 66% of the UK landmass is deemed to have access to ‘good’ 4G data services from all four telcos. As you can see from the table below, EE is offering the best breadth of coverage, though there is still some work to do.

Telco Geographic coverage
EE 84%
O2 74%
Three 78%
Vodafone 79%
All four 66%

Those who live and work in the city will not realise some of these frustrations. The 4G coverage map has not been completely filled in yet, and some will still fall through the gaps created by the digital divide.

One of the promises of the connected world is mobility. The idea of improving accessibility to the internet and embedding connectivity in more devices is to make people more productive and enable more people to work anywhere. Employees and employers alike will certainly be interested in this message, though the network does have to be there to fulfil the promise.

Right now, there are still too many holes in the networks spread across the UK. Some communities are being left behind, while transportation links, not just the hubs, need to be given adequate attention.

In fairness to the telcos, this is a difficult equation to balance. Bank accounts do have their limit and some companies are being asked to spend across a range of different areas. Compromises have to be made, though some might question whether the telcos have found the right mix yet.

5G might be grabbing the attention, but it will be 4G which will be the most important networks for years to come. 5G smartphones will remain too expensive for many, while it will take years to get the 5G network coverage map anywhere near as extensive as 4G. It is promising to see EE’s network gathering momentum, but we need to ensure 4G expansion is still a priority for telcos.

Vodafone makes flying 5G plug

Vodafone has announced the launch of a 5G trial in Manchester Airport, the first of several travel-related 5G initiatives to run over the coming months.

Vodafone 5G masts are now in place at the airport, one pillar of the 5G rollout across the city. Passengers at Manchester’s Terminal One were given a free Entertainment Pass on streaming service Now TV, with the telco promising download speeds which are 4X faster than what could be achieved on 4G.

“We all love to catch up on our favourite TV shows, play games or finish off some work when travelling,” said Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK. “5G, with its fast speeds and quick response times, will make that quick and easy, even in busy locations. We are proud to be the first provider to bring 5G to an airport and will be adding more major travel hotspots to our 5G network throughout the year.”

“We are delighted to support Vodafone’s 5G trial at Manchester Airport,” said Brad Miller, COO at Manchester Airport. “As we progress with the design and delivery of our £1bn transformation programme, we are constantly exploring how new innovations and technology can be applied to improve the airport experience.”

While the earliest handsets will not be available for a few months, Vodafone has installed a ‘Gigacube’ in the airport, effectively a hotspot, to allow passengers to connect and experience the 5G euphoria. Trials to date have made use of Massive MIMO technology to create a fixed wireless access experience for devices connected to the hotspot.

Although the 5G buzz has been accelerating elsewhere around the world at a much faster pace, the UK telcos are beginning to catch on. This trial will be one of several transport related usecases around the UK for Vodafone, Snow Hill railway station in Birmingham is another, EE has seemingly been targeting the East London hipsters, while Three recently plugged its own fashion-orientated trial.

The UK was always going to be one of the fast followers when it came to 5G, though this is not necessarily a bad position to be in. The US and South Korea might be streaming ahead, though what should be noted is the limited expanse of these initiatives. Another important factor to take into account is the assault on enterprise organizations.

As it stands, there are few usecases built for the consumer 5G ambitions, aside from downloading movies in a fraction of the time. Telcos will struggle to justify the expense of 5G with the consumer alone, but whoever most effectively engages enterprise will reap the promised rewards. For Vodafone, this means IOT, most notably the connected cow which has been paraded about tradeshows over the last couple of months.

We’ve been waiting for years, but the 5G craze is finally starting to hit the UK shores.