/ Technology

Are we ready for 5G mobile internet?

Phone manufacturers are gearing up to release the world’s first 5G-capable smartphone. But with large parts of the UK still lacking reliable 4G, how excited should we be?

5G smartphones look set to be released on to the UK market as soon as early next year if the murmurings of tech companies are to be believed.

Sony is the most recent to stress the importance of the technology, claiming it was a top priority for its next generation of Xperia phones at an investors meeting recently.

But Sony isn’t the only tech company jostling to get a 5G phone to the market.

It seems we’re likely to see at least four mobile handsets released next year that are 5G-enabled: the Sony Xperia XZ3, the OnePlus 7, the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S10.

But apart from increased data rates, what does 5G mean for phones? Well, they may look a little different than we’re used to. Handsets are already big, but 5G technology could require more space inside along with a bigger battery to power them.

5G networks?

Qatar was the world’s first country to launch a 5G network in May this year. But as there are no 5G mobile handsets available right now, it’s currently only servicing a few lucky home broadband users.

Saudi Arabia was next, launching a 5G network later in May with the aim of being ready for when  the devices finally arrive.

And South Korea trialed 5G during its time hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In the UK, EE has announced that it plans to trial its 5G network in October of this year, with London unsurprisingly the first city being targeted for the service.

4G-et about it

But shouldn’t we be focusing on getting 4G (and even 3G) rolled out across the UK before 5G is introduced to a few lucky areas?

Just take a look at OpenSignal’s map for mobile reception coverage in the UK – huge areas still suffer terrible reception for 3G and even 2G.

I’ve noticed this especially when visiting relatives in the countryside. Going west from Birmingham, you go from good 4G reception to mobile data black spots within just a number of miles.

Compare the UK map with some European countries – notably Belgium and the Netherlands – and it’s clear the UK has a lot of work to do in bringing even basic mobile data reception to vast swathes of the country.

Are you excited for 5G? Or is your area still suffering from a lack of 4G or even 3G reception?


Still waiting for decent 3G and 4G. ☹️

Yeah that 🙂

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My area would welcome any mobile service at all. The nearest is a steep 20 minute climb through bracken to the top of the hill behind us. The nearest by road is 3 miles away. I have recently returned from a road trip in Spain and Portugal. There was a signal in the remotest places I went to, even in the bottom of deep valleys.

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I am not sure how the Spanish situation on broadband helps the problem with mobile phone signal reach in the UK. No one operator has any responsibility for providing universal signal coverage for mobile telephony. As a starting point, each provider has presumably selected the areas they will cover on the basis of the geographical spread of their customer base. Almost every mobile phone company that ever started up in the UK has been bought and sold at least once and capturing subscribers was clearly much more important that reaching additional territory, so there are duplications of transmission technology and concentrations of customers, and the consequence is various ‘not spots’ or weak areas where the signal is patchy. Short of compelling transmission interchange or advanced roaming I cannot see an answer to this within the current regime. There are incentives to cover the poor signal areas but who decides which provider should pick up the baton? It might not be so convenient in a number of ways, but we never have a problem talking to someone somewhere else on the landline and it is usually cheaper and gives far superior reception. Someone called me on my landline yesterday who only uses a mobile phone but either he was wandering around while speaking, or the signal was fluttering badly, or both, but it was a difficult call for both of us because at times I could not hear him and sometimes he could not hear me so the call took twice as long as necessary and was quite fraught – and this was just across the city centre within a little over one mile. Obviously his outgoing signal had first, via his provider’s system, to get to the BT receiving station and then be fed into the BT phone network, and my outgoing signal had to do the same in reverse, so there are various opportunities for the signal to break down. It’s called progress.

Some while ago, perhaps on here, perhaps elsewhere, a smart person mentioned that their use of an Irish mobile phone contract was the best way of getting good coverage in the UK.

Because, when in the UK, they were treated as roaming, whereever they were, they could simply always use the best available network,

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BT had already sold off its Wireless division when a lot of that happened Duncan and it became O2 which is now owned by Telefonica. BT did not become a big mobile phone service provider again until just a few years ago when it took over EE which gave it most of the infrastructure it now has. I don’t think the unbundling of the landline telephone network and roll-out of superfast broadband is in any way connected with the lack of mobile signals in some areas. That is purely due to fragmentation of the mobile phone industry and its focus on just the profitable parts combined with a lack of interest by the government in ensuring proper coverage of all areas. The economical and efficient way would be by allowing networks to interchange their traffic to avoid duplication of masts and transmitters. The mobile phone industry has now consolidated again but there is still not much progress with serving remote and rural communities.

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It is arguable that there are now too few mobile phone service providers in the UK – 28% of the market is too much for one company and by some definitions is classed as a monopoly. Comparing Telefonica under the Spanish regime with the mobile companies in the UK under our regime is not really helpful because the situations are quite different. As you have said, people should not be blaming BT [EE] of the failure to provide full mobile signal coverage, and the partitioning of Openreach as a quasi-independent profit centre within the BT group makes it difficult to cross-subsidise the different market segments [in any case the BT TV operation is heavily loss-making so]. It would be more appropriate for Vodafone to fill in the mobile phone signal gaps.

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John said there is still not much progress with serving remote and rural communities.

There is still much progress to be made in non-remote and non-rural communities.

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A monopoly situation is usually taken to be 25% or more of the market. With only a handful of entrenched operators there is not enough competition to stimulate the providers into completing the coverage since the returns are nowhere near as good as they were in the early days when they competed to cover whole cities and easily picked up lots of customers..

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I don’t think there is a proper definition of a commercial monopoly; it is natural to assume it would be over 50% but it seems to come down to “dominant market position” in a situation where access to markets for new businesses is difficult [e.g. retail banks]. I lose track of the comings and goings of the mobile phone service providers but a city centre tour today suggested that there are just EE, O2, Three, Virgin Mobile, and Vodafone some of which have poor coverage in Norfolk. If two of those nationally count for 55% of the market that is not healthy and there is a case for a shake-up.

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I agree, Duncan. There is no organised process for achieving adequate coverage of 3G mobile let alone 5G.

Incidentally, Deloitte is a UK accountancy and business consultancy firm but it has had American constituents for a very long time and is now one of the major multi-national businesses with operations in most economies. I remember it as Deloitte, Haskins & Sells before they merged with Touche Ross and gradually swallowed up many others. Another case of being too big and open to conflicts of interest.

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I remember when 4G was supposed to provide us with fast internet access, yet I still frequently encounter ‘No service’ or slow and unreliable connections in places I frequent or visit on holiday. To be positive, there are many more areas where I can make a phone call, but tethering or even simply accessing a web page can be difficult outside built-up areas.

At home I have an excellent 4G service though I live in an isolated development. That’s one place I never need it because I can use a computer, but at least it shows there is nothing wrong with the phone.

I would prefer better 4G coverage to providing a 5G service to selected areas.

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I question whether the government even accepts any responsibility at all for improving mobile phone signal coverage; it sees it as the role of the commercial companies who profit from mobile phone calls. The problem is that I can’t see why BT or Vodafone or any other company should be expected to fork out for additional masts and dishes to serve some isolated community who all have mobile phones with different service providers and will expect roaming. Unlike with cable there is no mechanism for ensuring that the users bear the costs in both directions at the point of use [and that isn’t exactly perfect itself with heavy downloads but no financial contribution].

My view is that essential services should not just be run for the benefits of business but regulated so that the needs of citizens are met. Sharing of mobile networks to route calls via alternative networks in areas with poor or non-existent coverage would be a great help. This has been in place for calls to the emergency services for years. Network sharing would benefit us all and all that’s needed is for the companies to apportion costs according to use.

I would have thought the government could have done this as part of the license conditions. Perhaps we should ask why they didn’t?

In recent years, at least, governments have acceded to the wishes of business. Political parties should never have been allowed to be provided with funding by industry.

Governments are not separate entities, but made up of individuals. Many have their own financial interests and, I suspect, are looking at their future incomes once their political careers are terminated. Many of the public servants who work for us also have any eye on their future, after retirement for instance. So whether a political party receives donations from business or trades unions, for example, I believe it is the individuals who are persuaded rather then the whole. Few will have the integrity to rock the boat.

I have a cynical view of politicians, local and national, and see them and many public servants, just like the rest of the population, as having self-interest as a priority.

So, I don’t think it is anything new, nor that external funding is particularly important on individual decisions. It certainly is supposed to be useful in getting a particular party elected though. Funding individuals, entertaining them, providing them with free holidays, access to sporting events, dinners, now that seems to be the way to foster a worthwhile relationship (for the parties involved) Maybe all that should be stopped?

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Maybe so, but an effective “administration” should consider what is best for the consumer, surely, and impose the appropriate conditions? ?zz=1
(pic from greenkozi)

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I tried to indicate my comment was “tongue in cheek” duncan. I would be very happy if it were a large piece of liquorice toffee.

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Ian says:
29 July 2018

The solution for coversge is for there to be a single infrastructure with mandatory coverage specifications.

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My phone is capable of 4g but rarely use it and keep it in 3g mode because 4g seems to use so much battery!

Even 3g is fast enough, whats the point of 5G?

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In some areas of the UK a transmitter site will have 2G, 3G and 4G offerings from each of Vodafone, O2, EE and Three while in other areas there will be nothing at all. Competition means that businesses compete in densely populated areas while ignoring remote rural areas. Competition has failed and has been seen to fail( yet again). It is time to adopt a single national mobile infrastructure with a mandated percantage coverage target near 100% and let providers compete on a level playing field providing services from that. If any particular mast is “loss making,” the loss will be spread in small chunks across all providers not borne by one.

Ian, I think competition has been doing a good job of keeping prices in check and gradually driving them down. For example, on PAYG you can now get 3GB data plus unlimited minutes & texts for only £10 a month.

That said, I agree that competition alone isn’t going to result in the provision of uniform coverage across the UK, for either mobile or landline broaband services.

I agree with Ian. I think is is also high time that in the event of customers being in a no signal area, calls are routed via competitors’ networks, for the benefit of us all. It is technically possible and has been used for calls to the emergency services for years. The companies can levy charges on each other when calls are routed via another network.

As Derek says, prices are now good for mobile services.

The emergency services require total coverage of the UK, including out to sea. This is being developed using the EE 4G network and Samsung devices. They will have priority use if it ever comes to fruition.

When we have a number of providers and masts would it not make sense, as a licence condition, to have all mast suit all networks to give everyone equal coverage? Presumably that would also avoid the dependency of the emergency services on one provider – although at least that provider is mainly British.