O2 is going to begin rolling out 5G in October, the last of the big four networks to do so. The first locations to go live will be Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough and Leeds.
The network says 5G will be live in 20 towns and cities this year and a total of 50 locations by this time next year. O2 says it will initially prioritise key central areas - as other networks have and are planning to do - but it will also roll out 5G to the area around The O2 in Greenwich and Twickenham Stadium (O2 sponsors England Rugby) as well as key transport hubs - we guess this will primarily be in London.
O2 has stated it won't be using Huawei's radio access gear in its network sites instead plumping for gear from Ericsson and Nokia - the only one of the big four networks to commit to this. Nokia has already been working with Three on its core network tech.
O2 has also announced some handsets - like Vodafone it is ranging the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Xiaomi Mix 3 5G. The S10 5G will be available to purchase from Thursday 8 August with the Xiaomi Mix 3 5G coming later next month. Apparently, further devices will be rolled out ready for launch - perhaps these aren't launched as yet or O2, like everyone else, is waiting to see if the current situation with Huawei blows over.
Full details on O2’s tariffs, handsets and devices "will be revealed later this year", says the network. But we have been told that customers on O2 custom plans will be able move to 5G any time they chose - they'll be able to trade in their existing non-5G handset and upgrade to a new phone and tariff any time after launch.
We were originally expecting O2 to roll out 5G in 2020, but today's announcement makes sense - the network is sharing around three-quarters of network sites with Vodafone through a joint venture called Cornerstone. And, with Vodafone's network already launched, the path was paved for O2 to announce details.
However, analyst Paulo Pescatore of PP Insight believes the move "feels somewhat forced upon in light of moves by the other mobile operators. Though O2 will be the last to offer 5G services, it is still early days as the network is not widely available."
For the quarter of sites not shared, it means that both networks can install their own gear. At these sites, each party will install their own radio equipment, fibre ‘backhaul’ connection and power supply, while sharing physical elements like the mast. It amounts to around 2,700 mast sites in 23 of the UK's largest towns.
According to Vodafone, it "gives both parties more flexibility to meet the needs of customers [in the busiest areas] and deploy future network technologies".