Vodafone UK switched-on standalone (SA) 5G in several major cities, claiming the move made it the country’s first to offer the most advanced network technology currently available.

Branded 5G Ultra, it will initially be compatible with Samsung Galaxy S21 or S22 smartphones, with other handsets set to be supported from July.

The first locations to be covered include London, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff.

It noted a “small number” of customers are already able to receive the service. Those with a compatible handset will have it added to pay-monthly plans free if they signed up after 24 February 2023.

Eligible subscribers will receive the upgrade in a “phased approach” over the coming months, it added.

The company claims use of SA technology improves device battery life, provides more reliable connections in busy locations and delivers “amazing” data rates.

Alongside the launch, Vodafone took the opportunity to further push the benefits of its proposed merger with local rival 3 UK.

The operator claimed the combined entity would have the scale to reach more than 99 per cent of populated areas in the country with SA 5G by 2034, with the new business set to make £11 billion in network investments.

Vodafone launching first in the market comes as little surprise. It has been bullish on its position on SA 5G over the past few months, announcing what it claimed as a market-first trial in January and demonstrating use cases for the new network at a busy public event in May.

In 2022, major network figures at EE parent BT Group, which tends to be first to market with new network technologies, played down the fact it was unlikely to give SA 5G its UK debut. However, at the time BT was targeting early 2023 for launch.