UK mobile operator EE has finally flicked on the 5G switch in six cities but not everyone is as excited about it as Stormzy.
To commemorate 5G being switched on EE floated a stage out into the middle of the river Thames and put rapper Stormzy on it to perform a special set that culminated in warm sentiments towards EE and 5G, which you can see below. “Big up EE, thank you for letting me launch your 5G network in the UK,” said Stormzy. “Tonight was sick, I’m honoured to be part of history.” His agent is presumably no less pleased.
“We wanted to mark the arrival of the UK’s first 5G network with something spectacular,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer business. “Tonight, we made history, not only by becoming the first network to launch 5G in the UK, but also using 5G to live stream this event to thousands of fans across the UK. Stormzy lit up the Thames and his fans’ faces with the energy, passion and charisma that he always brings to his live shows.”
As previously promised, 5G was switched on in bits of London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Apparently this shiny new 5G tech was used, not just to power the performance, but beam it to EE stores in the other launch cities in order to create ‘a 360-degree VR experience’.
“Stormzy kept the crowd rapt with this one-off show, set against the iconic backdrop of London’s Tower Bridge,” gushed the EE press release. “First things first he set the evening’s tone, rising up on stage as night fell to an overwhelming ovation from the buoyant crowd, which included competition winners from across the UK.” Stormzy went on to announce he was launching an ‘EE 5G ting’ apparently.
EE also found a further ally in the unlikely form of state broadcaster BBC. The two claim to have ‘successfully made the UK’s first live TV contribution over a public 5G connection’, in which an outside broadcast was beamed back to BBC HQ over 5G. This marks the first time a public 5G network has been used by a production team for a live TV programme, we’re told.
“This is an excellent example of how the BBC experiments with cutting-edge technology to improve how we make programmes,” said Matthew Postgate, Chief Technology and Product Officer at the BBC. “5G is a hugely interesting area for us to explore, with potential to reduce the cost and complexity of outside broadcasts, and as a way of delivering content to audiences in the future. The internet will play a bigger role in broadcasting and we’re pioneering the techniques, standards and ways of working to truly take advantage of it.”
The mainstream UK media seems to have been largely as accommodating as the beeb in their coverage of the launch, but not everyone is so unconditionally upbeat. “The rollout of 5G is a welcome step forward, however there’s no reason for most people to rush out and upgrade to a 5G device just yet,” said Alex Tofts of Broadband Genie. “Coverage will remain limited for some time, and the cost of being an early adopter is high. Once more networks deploy 5G and coverage improves, the cost will fall as competition rises.
“But while the potential of 5G is exciting we can’t forget that UK network operators still have an obligation to provide 4G signal to 95% of the UK by 2022. 5G has a lot of promise but the operators should not lose focus on ensuring that coverage for existing technology continues to improve, especially in rural locations where mobile broadband can be used to plug the gaps in fixed line broadband access.”
Ingo Flömer, VP of Business Development and Technology at Cobham Wireless, is also concerned about coverage. “5G will undoubtably unlock a range of exciting new consumer and business use cases,” he said. “However, the new connectivity standard fails to address a more pressing problem: the lack of reliable mobile connectivity in many under-connected areas of the UK.
“Not-spots don’t only exist in villages and rural areas of the country; getting 4G mobile coverage is still a massive challenge for subscribers on major over ground rail routes, transport tunnels, and in infrastructure like sports stadiums, airports and music venues. 5G might present lucrative business and consumer cases, yet there’s a lot of revenue still to be unlocked by deploying 4G. In-stadium services to enhance the fan experience, for example, or ad-supported media and entertainment mobile streaming on commuter trains.”
“There has been something of a rush among operators to claim 5G leadership, in a bid to avoid being a perceived laggard,” said Dr William Webb, IEEE Fellow and CEO of Weightless SIG. “This has unfortunately resulted in a number of premature launches. Initially, coverage will be very patchy – some areas in city centres may have a good connection but little elsewhere. For many, there may be no 5G coverage where they live and work for many years.
“Initial tariffs appear to be significantly higher than 4G, which looks unappealing given the limited 5G coverage. The basic 5G package has 5GB of data. If the promise of 200Mb/s is delivered on – and 5G is aiming for much higher – then this entire monthly allowance will last a total of 200 seconds!
“The only real benefit here is that 5G networks will be virtually empty, allowing congestion-free communications. This is a big advantage when you consider in places such as Waterloo, Kings Cross or other mainline train stations. While lower congestion is a valuable benefit, there is no sign of the services or applications that will deliver the well-documented changes to the way that we live and work that some have promised.”
“It will probably take two or three years for networks to settle down and deliver a solid performance. Only then will we see coverage become reliable and widespread enough to impact those who live or work in cities, and for handsets to be price-comparable with 4G. If EE continues at its current rollout rate of 100 base stations per month, it will take 16 years to upgrade its entire network.”
Every new generation of mobile technology suffers from an over-promising problem, but it’s arguably worse than ever with 5G. Everyone knows the full benefits of 5G are still years away, but that’s of no concern to the marketing departments of operators and vendors keen to capitalise on this once-in-a decade-opportunity. EE has done a great job on hyping 5G, now let’s see how it does on the substance.