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EE Become First UK Mobile Operator to Hit 50 Percent 5G Cover

Tuesday, May 10th, 2022 (9:46 am) - Score 4,752
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EE (BT) today claims to have become the first mobile operator to have expanded its ultrafast 5G (mobile broadband) network to cover more than 50% of the UK’s population, which it added had been achieved “five years ahead of government’s ambition” – despite the challenge of needing to replace Huawei as a key supplier.

On the one hand, this is great news and EE deserves plenty of credit for having achieved the feat. But on the other hand, it wasn’t so many years ago that they were pushing the wider market to get “Clear on Coverage” (here) by making geographic coverage the default industry standard measurement (population coverage has always been a fairly low bar, due to the disproportionate impact of dense urban cities and towns).

Besting the government’s own target for 5G mobile coverage, while good, does also overlook the fact that politicians have never been particularly ambitions in this regard. Back in 2017 the Conservative Party’s manifesto actually promised “to have the majority of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027,” but as we know the word ‘majority’ can easily be conflated to reflect anything over 50%.

People only needed to look at how quickly 4G achieved a similar level of coverage in order to understand that reaching 50%+ by the end of 2027 – through commercial investment alone – was always likely to be a fairly easy target to hit. The big irony is that the Government’s newly unveiled Levelling Up White Paper has already – perhaps somewhat comically – downgraded even this target to be met by 2030!

None of this is EE’s fault, of course, but we do wish that the Government could have been a bit more ambitions when setting their original targets for 5G.

Julia Lopez, Digital Infrastructure Minister, said:

“I am delighted to see EE has made good progress rolling out 5G to half of the country. The technology, which can be up to 20 times faster than 4G, will help us in our aims to level up our economy and unleash the potential of communities across the UK.

We are working alongside industry to boost rural coverage through a £1 billion deal with mobile phone operators and are developing a new strategy to boost further investment in 5G and help operators rapidly expand their networks.”

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer Division, said:

“Today’s milestone is a huge achievement in our 5G journey. EE was the first network to launch 5G in the UK and now we’re the first mobile network operator to take the technology to 50% of the UK population. Our ambitions for 5G don’t stop here. We’ll continue to invest in our network to provide our customers with unrivalled connectivity.”

Interestingly, EE appears to have actually beaten their own 5G coverage target today too. Last year the operator stated that they expected their UK 5G coverage to reach “over half the population by early 2023” (here), before eventually reaching their ambition to deliver 5G connectivity solutions anywhere in the UK by 2028 – through a combination of permanent coverage (90% of the UK’s landmass) and on-demand solutions.

We’d argue that EE’s future target for 90% coverage of the UK’s landmass by 5G is a much more significant and harder goal to achieve than anything using the wishy-washy realm of “population” figures.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. Sam Machin says:

    I believe population coverage is also defined by where people live.

    In a world of FTTP, and WiFi Calling, home is about the last place I need mobile signal I’m already well connected there.

  2. James says:

    Boasting about coverage when they can’t seem to get the basics right at the minute. Phone call quality and dropouts.

  3. Phil says:

    EE 5G is too weak for my area (Outdoor only) with 1 or no bar. Poor by EE. My father telling me that he heard on Shropshire radio of why mobile signal are the worse in Shropshire, nothing was done about it. They only talk about better coverage in large cities and towns.

    1. Sam Perry says:

      Its Sub 6. It will never really come through

    2. Mike80 says:

      @Sam Perry
      Have you ever actually been to Shropshire? The only way Shropshire and indeed most of the rest of the UK will be covered – unless the mobile networks install antenna on every tree trunk – is by using sub6 frequencies.

    3. Mike80 says:

      @Phil

      EE are rolling out more 5G in the 700MHz band that will give users in rural and semi-rural areas better coverage. O2 and Three also have access to the same frequency band to improve their rural 5G coverage. Vodafone meanwhile is going to rollout 5G SA in 900 MHz to help rural coverage.

      It won’t be the same as 5G offered to cities and towns. Here higher frequencies are used that don’t travel far from the mast – so you need a more dense network of masts, something that just isn’t possible in the countryside.

  4. Anuraj says:

    5g coverage reasonably good but drains battery because 1 or 2 bars signal.

    I will be leaving EE because of voice quality and calls dropouts.

    It’s really annoying when you make important calls.

    1. simon says:

      It also frys your device. My home broadband 5G three box gets very hot – the box even states it has a fan capable of keeping it cool, which is sometimes the case. I had a phone malfunction as it was so hot you could fry and egg off it – and then there’s the battery drain like you said (which is even worse when 5G is in use)

  5. iDoc says:

    I’m in Birmingham and Vodafone hands down has better 5g speeds by far everywhere I’ve tested it and the coverage is much better. EE calls constantly drop.

  6. Anatoli says:

    Forget about 5G pop coverage – that depends on the signal threshold EE uses to determine whether or not it has coverage in an area. By using a lax threshold EE can easily inflate its 5G coverage. To determine whether EE is leading 5G, ask EE to reveal instead how many sites it has enabled with its C-band 5G spectrum!

  7. Gregowski says:

    Yet they left Southampton out.

    When my contract was running out i asked them when they are planing to turning 5G on in my area with that shinny new mast and they gave me around 6mths wait time. That was back in 2020 and its still not on so i said goodbye last year

  8. Dean says:

    I have noticed that EE have turned 5G on in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. The checker says no 5G yet I’ve got 4 bars and get around 125/42 on average. But even when I was on 4G I never had issues with calls or the quality when using the mobile network.

  9. JP says:

    Sorry but EE is talking rubbish here….

    I’ve an EE sim in a Samsung S22+, the device shows the 5G symbol but in disconnected state, and no 5G bearers are detected and no masts within a mile have 5G kit from EE on them.

    I also took notice on my device of when 5G actually connected and it only connected in two locations and that was very shortlived.

    Three have enabled 4x as many existing and new masts with 5G kit in the same area.

    Vodafone and O2 also have more 5G coverage.

    I plain do not agree with how EE advertise there service…. I also know that many devices mistake 5G ENDC availability on masts with EE as being connected too 5G however speedtesting apps (in particular nperf) will see past this mistake and show 4G as the connection type.

    I also run O2 and Three on this same device and see true network type shown even with ENDC enabled on non 5G masts in the area so I do think EE may be manipulating results here and actually think they are delaying upgrades too 5G as the need isn’t there for their 4G network which does run extremely fast compared to others.

    I may contact ASA to investigate this issue.

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