5G – Standing out in Standalone
By Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer, BT Group
EE has been running the UK’s best mobile network for a decade, since we were first to launch 4G in 2012. For the last four years, that’s included the UK’s first 5G network too. Relentless investment in our rollout means we’re on the way to meeting our target of enabling a 5G connection anywhere in the UK by 2028, through a combination of permanent coverage or on demand solutions.
While 5G delivers increased network speeds and vital capacity, the next generation of this mobile network technology – 5G Standalone – is around the corner. Take last year’s Green Planet experience, in partnership with Sir David Attenborough and the BBC Studios. Over 10,000 visitors were enthralled by a unique AR experience delivered over a dedicated 5G standalone (SA) service – a network solely using a 5G core with no dependency on 4G. This facilitates opportunities for lower latency, dedicated capacity and denser coverage in more congested areas. All features that supported the rich, interactive experience that helped us to bring the BBC’s Green Planet to life.
And it’s not just consumer applications where we’ll see 5G play an important role, we’ve also showcased the massive potential of 5G Private Networks for UK enterprises. BT’s 5G Private Network at Belfast Harbour, covering 2,000-acres, has been driving operational efficiencies, productivity gains, and accelerating digital transformation for a significant port that hosts over half a million freight vehicles a year. Unlocking new growth opportunities for industries throughout the UK by supporting modern connectivity use cases—that’s where we see the true potential of 5G in the UK.
So how is our progress going towards 5G Standalone? In short, we’ve made huge strides.
We’ve already moved the vast majority of our mobile customers – seamlessly – onto our new 5G-ready network core. In parallel, we’re upgrading many of our key radio sites across the country and been issuing 5G SA-capable SIMs to customers.
And in a bit of news that we haven’t previously shouted about, we carried out the UK’s first call over 5G in the network – in the industry we term it VoNR (Voice over New Radio). Why’s this important? At present, voice calls are supported by 2G and 4G, and the soon-to-be-retired 3G. Ensuring that 5G also provides this function is crucial to supporting a genuine 5G Standalone experience – as well as offering a further voice option for customers. With ever more 5GSA capable handsets coming onto the market, we’re making sure EE is in prime position to maintain its number one status for their performance.
But our work goes beyond the physical build of our new core and masts.
We’re also been busy innovating to get the best out of the network. We already hold a big lead on 5th percentile speeds. In human terms, that means, on average, you’ll have a much better network data experience over EE than other mobile networks in the UK.
We want to keep this the case as we transition to a Standalone network. So, in two European firsts over the summer, BT teamed up separately with Nokia and Ericsson to demonstrate the improved transmission and performance of 5G services in different carriers.
It’s vital, because as network quality and accessibility improves, so too will innovation and the 5G services ecosystem. Demonstrating new network capabilities is critical to achieving this goal, and also paves the way to ensuring that 5G SA delivers new possibilities for our customers. In particular, the trends we see from customers in demanding upload performance show the importance of meeting ever rising expectations.
These are huge innovative strides and crucial groundwork for the next generation of technology. EE alone knows how to launch and run a best-in-breed network. We did it with 4G and 5G and we’ll be doing it again with 5G SA, following years of preparatory activity to ensure a meaningful 5G Standalone network for our customers.
I can’t wait to update you further, alongside my team, as this vision becomes reality.