Three Launches 5G, But EE Complains About its Claim to Offer the Only ‘Real’ 5G Network

Three has become the third UK mobile operator to launch a fifth generation mobile network, with its 5G going live for home broadband users in London on Monday.

Three’s 5G, which is aims to roll out to 25 towns and cities by the end of the year, is being offered at no additional charge and unlimited downloads—provided customers have a 5G enabled device to access it.

Three’s 5G network is primarily aimed at home broadband users, with connectivity for mobile users to follow later this year.

Its 5G Home Broadband plan comes with unlimited downloads, “fibre-like ultrafast speeds,” and costs £35 a month on a 12-month contract.

Three’s CEO Dave Dyson said: “Three’s 5G is going to revolutionise the home broadband experience. No more paying for landline rental, no more waiting for engineers, and even a same day delivery option. It really is the straightforward plug and play broadband that customers have been waiting for.”

In fact, last year Dyson predicted 5G would eliminate the need for fixed-line broadband entirely.

Three also claims its 5G, whether accessed via a Wi-Fi hub router or eventually, a  mobile phone, will deliver speeds two times faster than its competitors’ network.

The claims have yet to be borne out. Three’s recent beta trial of the network in Camden delivered average download speeds of 138Mbps, certainly much faster than the speed of 25Mbps achieved on Three’s 4G network. But EE has told its customers to expect download speeds of 100 to 150 Mbps on its 5G network, “even in the busiest areas.”

Meanwhile, EE has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about Three’s claim, in print and online advertisements, that it’s the only operator offering a “real” 5G service.

The campaign, with the tag line “If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G,” will be investigated by the advertising watchdog, to see if it is in breach of the advertising code by being misleading.

Three’s claims in the adverts are based on the fact that it holds nearly three times as much 5G valuable spectrum as its competitors.

Previously the network has cited a definition of “true” 5G put forward by the ITU, the global standards body on 5G technology. The ITU has said a full 5G experience requires 80 to 100 MHz of contiguous spectrum around 3.5 GHz.

In the UK only Three meets those requirements, holding more than 100 MHz of 5G spectrum. In comparison, rival Vodafone has only 50 MHz, and EE and O2 both own around 40 MHz.

While Three acquired a small portion of 5G spectrum in an auction run by Ofcom last year, it augmented its slices by spending £250 million to buy UK Broadband.

Its huge slice of the spectrum puts Three “in pole position when it comes to its potential with 5G,” Ben Wood from mobile market researcher CCS Insight said.

Lauren Smith
Written by 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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