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BT Pledges 5G Will Cover Most of the UK by 2028

BT says the 5G network of mobile arm EE will extend across most of the UK by 2028, despite the government ban on Huawei equipment triggering an expensive removal project across its mobile infrastructure.

EE’s 5G launched in the spring of 2019 and today is the UK’s most developed next-generation mobile network, providing ultrafast download speeds to customers in 160 towns and cities. BT says EE’s 5G will be available to 50% of the UK’s population by 2023 and go on to achieve 90% geographic coverage by 2028.

The timeline shows that BT is undaunted by last year's government decision to ban the use of equipment from Chinese company Huawei in the UK’s mobile networks. EE’s 4G uses Huawei kit extensively, as does its emerging 5G network. The mobile operator began replacing the equipment with gear from Nokia and Ericsson in May. The entire removal project is expected to take six years and cost £500 million.

Meanwhile, residents of the most remote 10% of the country, places where it is difficult or uneconomic to install mobile phone masts, will be able to request connections to 5G via drones or satellite-based services from OneWeb, although they’ll be asked to foot part of the bill, BT said.

This future use of OneWeb’s satellites to deliver 5G to remote areas follows BT’s announcement that it will harness the network to deliver reliable broadband to underserved parts of the UK, as part of its Universal Service Obligation (USO). OneWeb is now partly owned by the government following a £400 million bailout last year.

To free up airwaves to support the 5G rollout, EE will shut off its older 3G network in early 2023, with customers moved off it in a phased transition in the coming months. EE’s 3G network is now primarily used by older phones and in areas without sufficient 4G coverage. In March, less than 3% of data and 25% of voice traffic were carried on 5G.

Conversely, the traffic carried on EE’s 5G network has exploded, more than quadrupling since October when the iPhone 12, Apple’s first 5G-enabled phone, launched.

But the phase-out means that millions of EE customers with 3G phones will need to upgrade to newer devices before 2023.

The new targets come just weeks after newly-created rival Virgin Media O2 announced it was “ready to fire” at BT, with its own plan to spend £10 billion on its 5G mobile and cable broadband networks over the next five years.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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