When will 5G be in my area? UK Coverage map for EE and other networks - and when it will be widely available
As promising a new technology as 5G is, its rollout has been relatively slow - here’s what to expect over the next few years
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that eight projects in England and Scotland will be part of a new scheme seeking to help local authorities cut red tape as telecoms operators look to install more 4G and 5G kit.
Amid a surging demand for connectivity, items such as road signs and CCTV poles can be used to improve 4G coverage – but they are also key to the rollout of 5G.
But how widespread is the mobile network at the moment, and how long will it be until the UK is home to a “full” 5G network?
Here’s how it works.
What is 5G?
Just as 3G was replaced with 4G mobile technology, so too will 5G replace 4G as the primary technology used for mobile internet.
It stands for ‘fifth generation’, and boasts much higher upload and download speeds than its predecessors, as well as better latency, which is the time it takes for a network to respond to a request.
The large bandwidth will also mean that thousands of devices can be connected to 5G at once, without causing interruption to signal or speed issues.
Some experts predict that 5G could mean the end of Wi-Fi, as the mobile network will be strong enough to facilitate any kind of browsing from streaming TV shows to looking at social media.
It will allow the download of a HD movie in less than a minute, up to x1000 faster than 4G.
How does a 5G network work?
The technology works in a similar way to previous iterations, in that mobile masts transmit radio frequencies carrying data to your smartphone, but 5G operates at a higher frequency spectrum, which means it can travel much faster, though not as far.
As such, the rollout of a full 5G network demands a larger number of smaller “cell sites” than previous generations of the technology; these sites involve antennas and other telecoms equipment being placed to form a network.
Until now, the necessary checks for information such as location, physical dimensions or access to a power source to ensure it is a good site for the network equipment have been difficult and time consuming.
Under new schemes, telecoms firms will get easier access to public buildings and street lights, bus shelters and traffic lights in 44 English and Scottish council areas.
The project aims to provide faster and more reliable mobile coverage sooner, and could also mean there is less need for new masts, which can often take longer to build and set up.
How widespread is 5G now?
However, that doesn’t mean that if you’re on one of those networks you can definitely utilise 5G internet - it also depends on where in the country you are.
In December 2021, telecoms regulator Ofcom’s Connected Nations report revealed that around half of UK properties are in areas where 5G is available outside from at least one operator.
It said the uptake of 5G-enabled handsets had increased substantially too, rising from 800,000 in 2020 to more than six million in 2021.
When will full 5G coverage be available?
When 5G will be available for you depends on which mobile network operator you are currently with.
For example, EE plans to cover the whole country by 2028, but other networks may have different timeframes.
You can check your network’s 5G coverage on its website.
However, 5G is not expected to be widespread until at least 2025, and even then, 4G will still be in high demand.
"While 5G demand is still gathering momentum, 4G will remain an important part of the wireless ecosystem," said Tata Communications COO John Hayduk told ITPro.co.uk.
"But it's expected that by 2025 investment and innovation in 4G will slow down as 5G takes prominence. In tandem, older 2G and 3G systems will begin to disappear from some markets altogether."
The UK Government has said 2G and 3G mobile networks are to be phased out of use in the UK by 2033 as part of measures to increase the security of telecoms supply chains.
Nadine Dorries said the UK would, in agreement with the country’s major networks, switch off all public 2G and 3G networks to free up spectrum for 5G and other future network technology.
The Culture Secretary said the move would support a smoother transition to faster mobile networks and would make it easier for new suppliers to enter the market.
The Government said there were wider benefits to the move, including making it simpler to run networks as operators do not have to deal with the challenges which can arise from running up to four networks.
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