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In this guide
- What is 5G broadband?
- Do I need 5G broadband or a 5G mobile SIM?
- Coverage and data speeds
- Which providers offer 5G?
- 5G broadband checklist
- Frequently asked questions
5G is the next-generation technology to follow 4G. Like 4G for your mobile, it delivers internet connectivity through high-frequency data signals sent over the airwaves to your device. 5G does this faster than 4G. On paper, in fact, it can achieve such high speeds it will in future be able to easily outperform your home broadband connection.
That's why, in addition to 5G mobile SIMs (compatible with rare and expensive 5G phones) aren't the only way the industry is pushing the technology. In addition, some providers are offering 5G broadband to replace your home broadband connection, provided you live somewhere you can get it. Here, we'll take a look at both kinds of 5G connectivity.
What is 5G broadband?
The term 5G broadband can describe either a mobile phone data connection using a 5G-compatible phone containing a SIM subscribed to a 5G plan on a 5G network, or it can describe a home 5G broadband router that, also using a 5G SIM, delivers 5G broadband speeds via that same 5G mobile data network.
5G simply stands for 'fifth generation' and is the technology set to supercede 4G, which for the vast majority of us currently delivers out mobile data. 5G uses higher frequencies to deliver much faster data speeds than 4G, but at the cost of range. Delivery of 5G networks is likely to be considerably slower than the rollout of 4G as there are substantial technological challenges as well as a harder task convincing us we need it.
- 5G home broadband – Inside your home, this works the same as your regular broadband connection. You have a router, which supplies both wired (LAN) and wireless (wifi) connectivity to your entire household. The key difference is how the 5G home router accesses the internet, doing so over the airwaves instead of via a phone line or cable TV connection. Worryingly, perhaps, suppliers of 5G home broadband currently advise you place your 5G broadband router next to a window. Presumably, this is to avoid signal interference problems, but it hardly speaks volumes of the robustness of the technology at this stage
- 5G mobile SIM – 5G technology itself will not require a new SIM. The new technology is built into the handset and the network. What you are upgrading to, then, will be a new 5G-capable phone and an upgraded 5G plan from your provider
Do I need 5G broadband?
Need is a strong word at the time of writing – the beginning of 2020. The biggest potential upset to 5G becoming the dominant mobile broadband technology is that right now the very high data speeds it offers don't have much use.
Mobile providers will tell you that you can download an ultra-high definition movie in under a minute or whatever, but who downloads movies to their phones in an age where streaming dominates? And even if you did, why would you want to download a film at a resolution is so high you cannot possibly perceive the benefit? Truth is there are currently no good reasons to own a 5G phone beyond being able to tell others that you do.
As for 5G home broadband that's another matter. There will be more and more cases as the technology rolls out across the country where you're maybe unable to get a superfast or even ultrafast home broadband connection, but you can get 5G. In future, 5G home broadband is going to fill a lot of gaps. For now though, here are a few reasons you might want it.
- You can get it – Almost no one can. No matter which provider you choose at the time of writing it's only available in a handful of city centres. If you can get it, that's a good start
- Your home broadband is terrible – As we said above, if your home broadband is terrible there is a small chance 5G will get to you before better fixed-line broadband does
- You have a special application in mind – Perhaps you need fast back-up broadband connection for your home or home business, or a second broadband connection for a dedicated server or some such
- You have to have the latest thing – Let's be honest, this is the real reason why most who would adopt 5G early on would choose to do so
- Money is no object – 5G is expensive right now, as you might expect with anything that's the latest, greatest thing. And with no useful applications for that extra speed, cost will not be a consideration for you
5G broadband coverage and data speeds
There are actually only four mobile network providers in the UK. 'Four?' we hear you say, 'but I can think of at least a dozen'. And indeed there are literally dozens of providers in the UK, but only four of them operate their own networks. The rest (called MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators in the biz) use one of these four established networks by renting capacity – sometimes called 'piggybacking'.
These four networks are: Three, Vodafone, EE and O2, and at the time of writing all four of them offer a 5G service in some (somewhat limited) form. In addition a couple of those MVNOs mentioned above also offer it – namely BT Mobile and Sky Mobile. But as with most new technologies, things aren't exactly firing on all cylinders here at the outset. Availability is very limited and speeds are a long way from the 10Gbps often touted by 5G evangelists. Let's take a look at how each of the networks is doing at the start of 2020.
EE claims a median average 5G speed of 185.7Mbps with a peak recorded download speed of 450.9Mbps. EE 5G is currently available in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Belfast, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol, Coventry, Leicester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Lichfield, Lisburn, Newcastle, Salford, Sheffield, Sunderland, Wakefield and Wolverhampton. But bear in mind that coverage will by no means be universal in those locations.
Vodafone claims a median average 5G speed of 112.2Mbps with a peak recorded download speed of 366.9Mbps. Vodafone 5G is currently available in Ambleside, Bebington, Belfast, Bishopbriggs, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bootle, Bristol, Bristol and Gatwick Airport, Cardiff, Cheadle and Gatley, Droylsden, Eccles, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Horwich, Huyton-with-Roby, Isle of Scilly, Kingswood, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Llandudno, London, Manchester, Mangotsfield, Newbury, Paisley, Penarth, Plymouth, Prestwich, Rochdale, Salford, Solihull, Stockport, Stoke-on-Trent, Stretford, Wallasey, Warrington and Wolverhampton.
Three is slightly slower off the blocks with 5G than some other network providers, and focusing mainly on using the technology to replace your home broadband than to turbo-charge your mobile phone. Average speeds measured by The Verge hit between 100Mbps and 200Mbps. Three 5G is available, or will soon be available, in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Cardiff, Hull, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Bolton, Bristol, Reading, Rotherham, Slough, Edinburgh, Brighton, Coventry, Derby, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes and Sunderland.
According to tests conducted by users using Ookla, O2 5G download speeds averaged 159.48Mbps, with the top 10% of tests hitting an average of 261.32%. 5G on O2 is currently available in Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Lisburn, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Sheffield, Slough and Stoke-on-Trent.
Which providers offer 5G?
5G mobile plans and 5G home broadband plans are available from a number of UK network providers as well as a couple of piggybackers using someone else's network capacity. Here's a brief rundown of who offers what.
- EE mobile – Provides 5G both as a mobile SIM and as a home broadband router
- Vodafone mobile – Provides 5G both as a mobile SIM and as a home broadband router
- Three mobile – Provides 5G both as a mobile SIM and as a home broadband router
- BT Mobile – Provides 5G only as a mobile SIM, operating on EE's 5G network
- O2 mobile – Provides 5G both as a mobile SIM and as a home broadband router
- Sky Mobile – Provides 5G only as a mobile SIM, operating on O2's 5G network
5G broadband checklist: What you need
No one really needs 5G right now. Sure, in years to come there will be applications that 5G is suited to, things that simply couldn't be done without the high speeds and low latency 5G provides. But that time is not now.
If, however, you are determined to take the plunge irrespectively of whether it can improve your day-to-day experience, there are a few things you'll need to be sure you have before you dive in.
- A compatible mobile phone – This is very important. You cannot access a 5G mobile network with just any mobile phone. It has to specifically be a 5G phone, and they are both rare and expensive at this stage. If you want 5G, you're going to need a new phone, and you'll need to be absolutely sure it is 5G-ready
- A 5G home router – If you're planning on getting 5G to replace your home broadband, or as a back-up to your existing broadband, you're going to need a 5G router, containing a SIM that lets you access a 5G broadband plan. Happily, you will get all of this if you sign up
- A 5G signal where you live and work – Coverage is very limited right now. See the section on coverage above for where you can currently get it on each network. Suffice to say that if you're not somewhere you can get it, you need not apply
- A healthy bank account – What with the cost of a 5G phone and the somewhat high cost of 5G mobile or 5G home broadband plan, if you're planning on opting for 5G you certainly won't be doing it to save money
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Frequently asked questions
Can 5G replace home broadband?
In the opinion of the experts here at Cable.co.uk 5G will never replace fixed-line home broadband. More, the two technologies will sit side-by-side, providing more options for home users depending on their needs and their circumstances.
Will 5G make home broadband obsolete?
No. The two technologies are likely to sit side-by-side for many, many years to come, providing additional options to users depending on their needs. It will almost certainly replace 4G as the primary means of accessing the internet on your mobile, however.
How fast is 5G broadband?
At the time of writing, the fastest recorded 5G mobile speed was on the EE network at around 500Mbps. The technology has been touted to reach speeds many times that. However, at this early stage of implementation, expectations should be kept in check.
Is 5G dangerous?
5G operates at a higher frequency band than 4G. Mobile signals of any kind are not dangerous to human health. Rumours that they are are nothing more than myth.