Three years after switching on its next-generation mobile infrastructure, mobile network operator EE has revealed that its 5G network now covers half of the UK population.
The BT-owned operator officially turned on its 5G mobile network – the UK’s first consumer-facing 5G service – in Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester in May 2019.
After progressing its 5G switch-on, roll-out was ramped up in April 2021 when, following the assignment stage of Ofcom’s 5G spectrum auction, EE more than doubled its UK 5G frequency holdings, a move it said set it up to be able to provide customers with the best and most extensive 5G network in the UK.
Bidding in the principal stage auction for 200MHz of 5G spectrum ended in March 2021, drawing the relatively modest overall spend of just of £1bn, a figure regarded as good news for maintaining the UK’s 5G development. The assignment stage involved a single bidding round in which interested parties were able to bid for the frequency positions they preferred for the airwaves they secured in the principal stage.
EE won 80MHz of the 700MHz and 3.6GHz bands on offer. It invested £452m to secure the new spectrum in March 2021 before placing assignment bids with Ofcom, and took part in negotiations with other networks to establish the exact in-band position of the newly won capacity. EE secured positions within the respective spectrum bands for an additional £23m cost, taking its total investment to £475m. It negotiated the ability to make a future spectrum trade, to obtain full contiguity for the holdings.
The company said its latest coverage milestone was an achievement that came a year ahead of its initial roll-out target. The 50% coverage landmark was reached after EE took a new or improved 5G service to a number of towns and cities across England, Wales and Scotland, in particular to locations that the company expects to have high summer footfall, mainly seaside and other popular holiday destinations.
“Today’s milestone is a huge achievement in our 5G journey,” commented BT Group Consumer Division CEO Marc Allera. “EE was the first network to launch 5G in the UK and now we’re the first mobile network operator to take the technology to 50% of the UK population. Our ambitions for 5G don’t stop here. We’ll continue to invest in our network to provide our customers with unrivalled connectivity.”
As part of its ongoing network investment, EE has pledged to offer 5G anywhere in the UK by 2028 through its macro network and on-demand connectivity solutions.
The achievement also comes ahead of the UK government’s ambition for the country’s mobile providers to wipe so-called “notspots” from the country, providing high-quality 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025 in the £1.3bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme.
Commenting on EE’s announcement, digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez, said: “I am delighted to see EE has made good progress, rolling out 5G to half of the country. The technology, which can be up to 20 times faster than 4G, will help us in our aims to level up our economy and unleash the potential of communities across the UK.
“We are working alongside industry to boost rural coverage through a £1bn deal with mobile phone operators and are developing a new strategy to boost further investment in 5G and help operators rapidly expand their networks.”
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