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UK’s 5G Coverage Progress: Room for Improvement

UK’s 5G Coverage Progress: Room for Improvement

5G Coverage

The most recent Connected Nations report by the UK regulator Ofcom shows that 5G landmass coverage provided by individual mobile network operators (MNOs) is progressing, but overall it is still relatively low. Coverage fluctuates between 11% and 38% at a high confidence level of availability and from 6% to 26% at an extremely high confidence level.

This is a stark difference compared to the 93% coverage of UK premises. Moreover, only 25% of premises with high confidence are covered by all four major MNOs, including BT/EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2 (VM O2), and Vodafone UK. As the demand for faster and more reliable internet connectivity grows, these statistics highlight the need for continued investment in expanding 5G infrastructure across the UK.

Collaboration among the MNOs and regulatory support from Ofcom will be crucial in closing the gap between premises and landmass coverage, ensuring that more individuals and businesses benefit from the advantages of 5G technology.

Varying levels of network coverage and confidence

Ofcom states that BT/EE possesses the broadest 5G coverage at the very high confidence level, encompassing over 26% of the UK landmass and a minimum of 63% of external premises. In contrast, Three UK has the most extensive 5G coverage at the high confidence level, covering more than 38% of landmass and 78% of external premises. This comparison highlights the varying levels of network coverage and confidence provided by different telecommunications operators in the United Kingdom. Both BT/EE and Three UK continue to invest in their 5G infrastructure to deliver faster and more reliable connections to consumers, aiming to meet the growing demand for high-quality mobile services.

Shift toward mobile 5G standalone deployments

The report also highlights the beginning of the UK’s shift toward mobile 5G standalone (5G SA) deployments. Vodafone UK was the first MNO to launch a 5G SA network for private clients in July, with BT/EE predicted to follow suit shortly. VM O2 is presently concentrating on a transportable commercial 5G SA private network with plug-and-play functionality. This move towards 5G SA networks represents an important milestone for the country, as it enables companies to take full advantage of the technology’s features, such as ultra-low latency and increased efficiency in managing the wireless spectrum. As the trend gains momentum, other carriers and enterprises are expected to join the race, thus expediting the 5G standalone ecosystem’s development and making it more accessible for users across various industries.

Continued importance of 4G services

While 5G continues to expand, 4G services still form the foundation of the majority of consumer experiences. Approximately 98% of premises have outdoor 4G coverage from all MNOs, and individual MNO landmass coverage ranges between 80% and 87%. Despite the rapid development and deployment of 5G technology, 4G remains the backbone of connectivity for countless mobile users around the world. This impressive coverage ensures that most people continue to have access to reliable communication and internet services no matter their location, even as the focus shifts toward the future potential of 5G networks.

MNOs’ 4G coverage requirements by 2024

By the end of June 2024, MNOs are required to deliver 4G coverage across 88% of the UK landmass, although extensions have been sought by Three, Vodafone, and VM O2. These extensions indicate the challenges faced by mobile network operators in achieving the ambitious coverage target within the given time frame. In order to comply with the requirement set by the government, this would require significant infrastructure investment and coordination among the operators to expand their networks.

Plans to phase out 2G and 3G networks

Additionally, MNOs are advancing plans to cease operations of their legacy 2G and 3G networks by no later than 2033. This move will significantly benefit the industry by utilizing the valuable spectrum for more advanced and data-centric 4G and 5G services. Furthermore, it will lead to improved network capabilities, faster data speeds, and enhanced connectivity for consumers and businesses alike.

Open RAN’s impact on the telecommunication landscape

Lastly, the UK government and the four major MNOs have reaffirmed their goal of having 35% of network traffic occur over open radio access network (RAN) systems by 2030. This ambitious target signals a significant shift in the telecommunications landscape, paving the way for increased innovation and collaboration among industry players. Open RAN technology has the potential to bring about better network performance and more cost-effective infrastructure, ultimately benefiting both service providers and consumers alike.

Limited open RAN deployment and future expectations

However, open RAN deployment is still limited, with approximately 40 sites reported this year as opposed to fewer than 20 in 2022. The increase in open RAN sites demonstrates a growing interest and investment in this technology, as it promises numerous benefits such as increased flexibility and lower costs for network operators. Despite this growth, experts predict that a more widespread adoption of open RAN may take a few more years, as further development and testing is required to ensure optimal performance and compatibility with existing infrastructure.

First Reported on: fiercewireless.com

FAQs

What is the current state of 5G coverage in the UK?

5G coverage in the UK is progressing but remains relatively low in terms of landmass coverage, with percentages ranging from 11% to 38% at a high confidence level and from 6% to 26% at an extremely high confidence level. This is a significant difference compared to the 93% coverage of UK premises. Only 25% of premises with high confidence are covered by all four major MNOs, including BT/EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2 (VM O2), and Vodafone UK.

Which MNO has the broadest 5G coverage in the UK?

Ofcom reports that BT/EE possesses the broadest 5G coverage at the very high confidence level, covering over 26% of the UK landmass and a minimum of 63% of external premises. However, Three UK has the most extensive 5G coverage at the high confidence level, with more than 38% of landmass and 78% of external premises coverage.

What is the current focus on mobile 5G standalone (5G SA) deployments in the UK?

UK mobile network operators are beginning to shift towards mobile 5G standalone (5G SA) deployments. Vodafone UK was the first to launch a 5G SA network for private clients, with BT/EE expected to follow soon. VM O2 currently focuses on a transportable commercial 5G SA private network with plug-and-play functionality.

How important are 4G services in the UK?

4G services remain the foundation of most consumer experiences, with approximately 98% of premises having outdoor 4G coverage from all MNOs. Individual MNO landmass coverage ranges between 80% and 87%. Despite the rapid development of 5G technology, 4G continues to be the backbone of connectivity for numerous mobile users around the world.

What are the 4G coverage requirements for MNOs by 2024?

By the end of June 2024, MNOs are required to deliver 4G coverage across 88% of the UK landmass. However, extensions have been sought by Three, Vodafone, and VM O2, indicating the challenges faced in achieving this ambitious target within the given timeframe.

What are the plans for phasing out 2G and 3G networks in the UK?

MNOs are advancing plans to cease operations of their legacy 2G and 3G networks by no later than 2033. This move will benefit the industry by utilizing the valuable spectrum for more advanced and data-centric 4G and 5G services, leading to improved network capabilities, faster data speeds, and enhanced connectivity.

What is the impact of Open RAN on the UK telecommunication landscape?

The UK government and the four major MNOs aim to have 35% of network traffic occur over open radio access network (RAN) systems by 2030. Open RAN technology has the potential to bring about better network performance and more cost-effective infrastructure, ultimately benefiting both service providers and consumers alike.

What is the current state of open RAN deployment in the UK?

Open RAN deployment remains limited, with approximately 40 sites reported in 2023 compared to fewer than 20 in 2022. Though there is growing interest and investment in open RAN technology, widespread adoption may take a few more years, as further development and testing are required for optimal performance and compatibility with existing infrastructure.

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