EE has announced the launch of its 5G network along with plans to develop ‘exciting new experiences’ with Google and Niantic.

The UK’s largest mobile operator will launch its 5G network on May 30th in six initial cities; London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, and Manchester.

Later this year, the BT-owned network plans to expand coverage to include Bristol, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, and Glasgow. A rapid expansion plan means over 100 new 5G sites will be added per month.

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

“This is the start of the UK’s 5G journey and great news for our customers that want and need the best connections. We’ve started with 5G in some of the busiest parts of the UK, the widest range of 5G devices in the UK, and plans that give customers the best mobile connection and great benefits.

We’re adding 5G to the UK’s number one 4G network to increase reliability, increase speeds, and keep our customers connected where they need it most. 5G will create new experiences with augmented reality, make our customers’ lives easier, and help launch entirely new businesses that we haven’t even imagined.”

At launch, EE expects customers to receive speeds of around 100-150Mbps even in the busiest areas. Some customers, the operator claims, will break the one gigabit-per-second milestone on their 5G smartphones.

During the announcement, Allera was questioned about whether the uncertain legal status of Huawei equipment will affect the launch. Allera said it would not, which is unsurprising given BT as a whole has been phasing Huawei equipment out from core parts of its network since 2016.

BT said in a statement: “In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G mobile networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006.”

EE did have plans to launch 5G consumer devices by Huawei. Allera said plans to sell Huawei devices are being paused until there’s more clarity.

Devices, experiences, and pricing

The smartphones EE are launching alongside its 5G network include the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, as well as the Oppo Reno 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, and OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, which are UK exclusives to EE.

EE has partnered with Google and Pokémon Go-developer Niantic for ‘exciting new experiences’ aiming to show-off the potential of 5G.

Niantic is soon to launch its next augmented reality title, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. EE is the exclusive launch partner in the UK. EE locations will appear in the game as sponsored Inns and Fortresses with higher reward payout and special quests that’ll be announced at launch.

“Our partnerships with Google and Niantic are just the start of our commitment to work with the most innovative and exciting companies in the world to ensure that EE customers are the first to benefit from the exciting new experiences that 5G will bring,” comments Allera.

Google, meanwhile, will be connecting its Google for Startups Campus in London to EE’s 5G network. The companies hope the partnership will drive the development of next-generation 5G transformative apps and experiences.

A 5G home broadband service, the UK’s first, will be launched by EE in June for connectivity without the need for an engineer installation. EE says further details about its home broadband plans will be revealed soon.

For connectivity on-the-go, EE is launching a service powered by the HTC 5G Hub for an upfront cost of £100. Plans start at 50GB of data per month for £50 per month, or for £75 per month with 100GB of data.

Standard mobile 5G plans start from 10GB (£54 per month) and extend up to 120GB (£74 per month). Two new ‘Swappable Benefits’ have been added for 5G.

5G customers will get two Swappables from a choice of five – including the BT Sport App HD HDR access for the best possible video quality, Gamer’s Data Pass, Music Data Pass, EE Video Data Pass, and Roam Further Pass – which they can swap in or out anytime they want. Customers taking the 120GB plan will get three Swappables.

EE is also launching the UK’s first 5G SIM-only plans which include Swappables and inclusive Service Pack benefits. These start at 20GB/month for £32/month and rise to 100GB for £52/month.

The operator’s 5G launch plans are undoubtedly comprehensive. Early partners to show off 5G experiences will help to answer the question in consumers’ minds of why they should upgrade from current 4G plans.

Rival network Vodafone recently announced current 4G network users will be upgraded free to 5G. While unconfirmed, Three UK is also likely to upgrade existing customers at no cost as it did in the transition from 3G to 4G.

EE’s range of devices, speed of rollout, and unique experiences will be needed to help justify its premium 5G pricing.

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