EE announced plans to switch on the UK’s first 5G services in six of the country’s largest cities next week (30 May) alongside a slew of devices, though CEO Marc Allera (pictured) stated the availability of compatible handsets from under-fire vendor Huawei would be paused.

At a press event in London, Allera said the service would enable use cases which would “become mainstream”. He added consumers had been skeptical about the reasons for adopting 4G at its launch in 2012, but noted that service went on to be the basis for a host of transformative video and app-based services.

The first locations to get 5G will be London; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Belfast; Birmingham; and Manchester, with plans to extend this “rapidly” to ten other major urban centres including Bristol; Leeds; Liverpool; Newcastle; and Hull.

Until 2022, EE’s 5G will be a non-standalone service relying on underlying 4G infrastructure. The second phase will include the rollout of a 5G core network. It plans to upgrade 100 of its sites to 5G on a monthly basis with 2,000 live sites planned by late May 2020.

Huawei on hold
Alongside the network itself, Allera unveiled a number of devices available for order from today (22 May). These include 5G offerings from Samsung, OnePlus, LG and Oppo.

However, during the press conference, the executive added availability of compatible Huawei devices was “on pause” until uncertainty around the situation with the vendor’s ability to buy components and software from the US had been clarified.

Sources close to the operator told Mobile World Live the “pause” on Huawei handsets extends to all new devices and the operator would not purchase any additional stock of its devices until the situation was resolved.

At launch 5G will offer tailored contracts offering access to specific apps and services including a higher-quality of version of its BT Sport app.

Its 5G plans including a handset start at £54 per month, with a SIM-only version featuring 10GB of data for £32. This compares with a 4G SIM-only plan offering 20GB for £22, based on the latest prices on its website.

“Everything changed when we launched 4G,” Allera added. “This is the start of everything changing again.”

EE’s first phase launch comes more than a month before rival Vodafone UK plans to launch its service in seven cities.

O2 UK and 3 UK are yet to commit to specific dates.

Analyst view
Following the event, CCS Insight director for consumer and connectivity Kester Mann said: “Being first-to-market with 5G matters little to consumers, but is clearly an important honour for BT. It enables the company to reinforce its network leadership and chimes nicely with the sentiment of new CEO Philip Jansen, who plans to transform the company into a national champion”.

PP Foresight analyst Paolo Pescatore believes the launch is “great news for the UK digital communications infrastructure”, but highlighted uncertainty about the security of Huawei infrastructure and handsets.

Like many UK operators, EE plans to continue using Huawei kit in its RAN network, but not its core.

Pescatore said EE’s decision to put the Chinese vendor’s 5G handsets “makes sense for now” given consumers “are starting to be wary about Huawei products and quite possibly other Chinese products”.

“This will have a negative impact on 5G consumer take-up in the short term.”