Mobile operator O2 has become the next UK network provider to confirm its plans for the launch of its 5G network, with the firm set to be the last of the big four operators to enter this market, with a launch date now set for October.

Currently, Vodafone and EE already operate consumer 5G networks in select locations, while Three is set to join them in August. 

Making the announcement, chief executive of O2’s parent company Telefonica UK Mark Evans said: “5G is going to be a game changer for our country. Whether it’s for people or businesses, the power of this next-generation network is going to unlock a world of possibilities for our economy and society.”

So what do you need to know about O2’s 5G network, and how it will compare to those that will already be available come October?

Where will O2 5G be available?

O2 will launch its 5G network in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Slough, but the firm aims to have 20 towns and cities within its network by the end of 2019, including Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Nottingham and Stoke.

While it means some large cities such as Manchester and Birmingham that are already covered by networks from Vodafone and EE will initially miss out, the focus on smaller locations could give more people the opportunity to experience 5G for themselves.

Next year, O2 plans a swift expansion of its 5G network, bringing the total number of towns and cities covered to 50 by the end of 2020. This will include locations such as Glasgow, Liverpool, Mancheater, Birmingham and Newcastle, to name but a few.

A focus on busy hubs

As well as the headline speed increases that 5G provides, one of the major advantages of the technology is its ability to handle many more connections simultaneously without slowing down services for everyone. This is something that can be a challenge for existing 4G networks, which often leads to poor performance in peak times and at crowded locations.

O2 is hoping to stand out from other 5G providers by focusing its initial rollout on these busy areas where the extra capacity of 5G will be needed most. This includes transport hubs, key business areas and entertainment and sports venues, with The O2 and Twickenham Stadium among the locations set to be prioritised.

What devices will be available?

In order to take advantage of 5G networks, users will need to upgrade their smartphones to devices that include specific 5G-ready chipsets. Currently, O2 is offering two such handsets to customers, both of which will be available ahead of the launch date.

From August 8th, O2 customers will be able to purchase the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, while the Xiaomi Mix 3 5G will be available later in the month. Additional 5G-ready devices will be announced in the coming months prior to the October launch, while both consumer and business customers will be able to select a 5G tariff that suits them at this time.

“As we switch on our network across the country, our intelligence-led rollout prioritises the key areas in towns and cities first – the places where our customers need, and will use, 5G the most,” Mr Evans said. “We’re also giving our customers maximum flexibility with our industry-leading custom plans, letting people adopt 5G at a time that’s right for them.”

There is no indication in O2’s announcement this week that the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G will be among the devices on offer, though O2 did confirm earlier in the year that this would be available “in the summer”. 

However, continued uncertainty surrounding the manufacturer may be behind such delays. BBC News also noted O2 is the only one of the four main operators not to use Huawei kit in its infrastructure, following concerns over the security of such hardware.

Working with businesses

O2 also revealed how it will look to support enterprise customers with its 5G network. The company has announced the launch of its new O2 Business division on August 1st, which will bring together product development team including IoT, data and 5G alongside its Enterprise and Wholesale sales and commercial teams. The division will focus on supporting business customers to use technology to solve their business problems.

For instance, O2 highlighted how it is working with Northumbrian Water Group, using 5G smart sensors to help proactively monitor water quality and detect leaks.

“Being able to quickly install, fix and maintain complex infrastructure is a priority, so the company is also evaluating the benefit of connecting field engineers to skilled experts using 5G-enabled AR headsets allowing real-time support where instructions and manuals can be overlaid in the field engineer’s AR headset,” O2 stated.

The firm also said it is in discussions with Network Rail to determine how it can support the UK’s rail infrastructure with 5G. O2 noted that with passenger numbers set to double in the next 25 years, innovation and technology will be key enablers to unlocking the railway and boosting productivity throughout the economy.

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