(Pocket-lint) - Vodafone's 5G service is live and the network is keen to push two messages - that it has some Unlimited data plans with 5G and also that it is the first network to support 5G roaming (in other countries that have 5G).
It also says that you don't pay a premium for 5G services over 4G, although the initial 5G handsets (see below) are more expensive to sign up for than their 4G counterparts.
We'll be bringing you all the latest on Vodafone 5G over the coming months as the service rolls out to even more areas.
What is 5G?
5G follows on from 4G and is an additional layer on top of it. We'll eventually see 3G switched off, but 2G (for voice and some low-level devices such as smart meters) and 4G will continue to be live.
5G offers low latency (lag) for applications such as online gaming, while it'll also bring vastly improved speeds - you'll be able to download things in a fraction of the time.
Where will Vodafone 5G be available?
"We plan to have 1,000 5G sites live by 2020," Vodafone has told Pocket-lint. The 5G network launched in seven cities first including Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London.
However, Vodafone has now expanded this and the network is live in a total of 15 places. Birkenhead, Bolton, Gatwick, Lancaster, Newbury, Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton are all now live with pockets of 5G coverage in their central areas.
It has also now added the Isles of Scilly to the launch list as a testbed for using 5G services in rural areas and communicating using 5G with the mainland.
Vodafone's head of networks Andrea Dona told Pocket-lint earlier in 2019 that the network was working hard to be the best at 5G having modernised 16,000 network sites so far. "We've got the latest electronics on our base stations... which gives us a really good footprint on which we can roll out 5G. By the end of the year, we'll be more or less on par with our competitors.
"[That's] in contrast to what happened with 4G, where our competitors launched the year before. That's not going to happen this time." Dona also told us Vodafone is planning to switch off 3G to beef up the 5G effort. He says £2billion has so far been invested in the modernisation effort.
Vodafone’s 5G spectrum is in the low to medium band – below 1Ghz for coverage (700, 800, 900Mhz) and 3.4Ghz for capacity. "Spectrum is a very, very costly asset," says Dona. "One that we pay a lot of money for, and one that we have to maximize to its full potential. So if the equipment on the radio base station is old, [it] doesn't give you the full functionality. We will be carrier aggregating on 5G, too".
Vodafone is working with O2 to build a joint 5G network to bring 5G faster to non-urban areas. The pair already do some network-sharing and also run a joint venture that manages network sites.
What Vodafone 5G phones are there?
Vodafone has been adding to its initial series of launch devices and has recently decided to re-introduce the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G after previously saying it wouldn't stock it due to the Huawei's blacklisting by the US. It has also recently introduced the Galaxy A90 5G.
Huawei Mate 20 X 5G
Huawei's Mate 20 X 5G is a huge, 7.2-inch handset that boasts a decent battery life and speedy performance. It's available on some great deals, too. This 5G model also boasts upgraded specs over the standard Mate 20 X, which follows recent Huawei battery form and will easily last into a second day.
Samsung A90 5G
The latest 5G handset from Vodafone is available at some stonking prices despite its September 2019 launch. Aimed to slot in underneath the S10 5G and Note below, the A90 5G is as big as the 6.7-inch S10 5G and has most of the smarts, too.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is a specific version of the S10 series for 5G. It comes with a massive 6.7-inch display, large massive 4500mAh battery plus a quad-camera system. It's expensive due to its desirability and you may be better off opting for the A90 5G above.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
The Note 10+ 5G is a 6.8-inch device that builds on the S Series but includes the famous S Pen stylus. It's a truly great phone, but if you don't need the stylus then look at one of the other Samsung options here instead.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
The Mi Mix 3 5G uses Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 855 processor alongside the Snapdragon X50 modem and is priced well - in fact, it's one of the best value 5G handsets out there. It boasts a 6.39-inch 2340 x 1080 FHD+ Samsung AMOLED display, 12-megapixel AI-enhanced dual camera plus a 24-megapixel selfie camera, too.
What about Vodafone 5G broadband?
Vodafone has announced the Huawei-made 5G Gigacube for 5G home and business broadband with prices starting from £30 a month.
Those willing to sign up to an 18-month contract will be able to get 100GB of data a month for £30, 200GB of data for £40 a month, or unlimited data for £50 a month. Upfront costs will start at £100, and then drop to £50 for the two later price plans.
Those that want to be a bit more flexible with a 30-day contract can opt for 100GB for £30 a month, 200GB for £50, or Unlimited for £50. With this contract there is a £325 upfront fee.
Vodafone Together provides you with mobile, home broadband over cellular and a free Amazon Echo Plus for £47 a month. This gives you unlimited data (within reason) and Vodafone OneNumber so you can make calls via the Echo.
How fast is Vodafone 5G?
Speeds are difficult to talk about at this stage because there are a lot of variables - devices have different capabilities, while different locations also yield different speeds of course. Users are likely to get speeds in excess of most current home broadband - upwards of 100Mbps - while some peak speeds may hit the 1Gbps mark.
Certainly, we saw a speed test hit 900Mbps when we recently visited Vodafone's Newbury HQ where 5G is deployed. However, that was in perfect conditions - we were stood on top of a car park in sight of the mast.
Scott Petty, Vodafone's chief technology officer, believes we will see data speeds of 10 times that of 4G over the coming years.
Vodafone's early testing has been talking about download speeds around four times that of 4G. In a Vodafone 5G test in Manchester, a 656MB episode of Tin Star downloaded in 45 seconds, while the whole series took around six minutes. On 4G, the series took 26 minutes.
"5G is a lot more efficient [than 4G]," says Petty. "Each antenna has 64 transmit and 64 receive antennas compared to the one today. We can shove a lot more data down that pipe and we can make 5G the preferred connectivity [method] over the next couple of years. 5G is a journey, not a destination."
In tests by our reviews editor Mike Lowe around Barbican, London EC2, he achieved 110Mbps with the Xiaomi Mi Mix 5G but experienced a far better and more consistent 180Mbps in the City of London with peaks of 210Mbps.
How much will Vodafone 5G cost and what are the best deals?
Crucially, Vodafone announced "5G [will be] priced the same as 4G" on Unlimited a and Red plans while it'll also be the first network to offer 5G roaming in selected countries.
Currently, you can get the black Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G from £54 a month (£49 upfront). That'll give you a hefty 60GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. You also get global roaming, too.
As you might expect, the Samsung S10 5G is more expensive. Again it's from £49 upfront but costs £16 more a month - a not inconsiderable £70. Again that's for 60GB of data and unlimited everything else.
Three new unlimited data plans will be available on 5G and 4G:
Vodafone Unlimited Max: Priced at £30 per month this will give you unlimited mobile access at speeds as fast as the device and the network will allow.
Vodafone Unlimited: Costing £26 per month it offers speeds of up to 10 Mbps for HD streaming.
Vodafone Unlimited Lite: This service costs £23 per month and is intended for online chat and social only really. That's because it only offers speeds of up to 2 Mbps - that's pretty slow, so we don't recommend signing up for this.
Customers can add an entertainment pack to their plan (any Unlimited or Red 20GB tariff) for £6 a month. This will get you one of the following: Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, Sky Sports Mobile or Now TV.
Vodafone customers are also being offered free access for three months to the Hatch gaming service as part of these tariffs.
On Vodafone Red, 5G is also available at no extra cost and include unlimited voice minutes and offer larger data allowances. Called Red 1 (1GB, £11), Red 2 (5GB, £15) and Red 3 (20GB, £20), they have no speed restrictions.
You can find out all about the deals on offer on Vodafone's website.