O2 to turn on 5G service in 6 U.K. cities this October

O2 also announced an extension of its network sharing agreement with Vodafone to help speed up and reduce the cost of rolling out 5G. (Getty Images)

O2, the Telefónica-owned British mobile operator, Thursday announced plans to rollout 5G service in London and five other U.K. cities this October.  

The initial launch is concentrated in select areas of six cities that include Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough, and Leeds. O2 will turn on its 5G network in 20 towns and cities by year-end and expand to an additional 30 by next summer.

O2 said its targeting transportation hubs, key business areas and entertainment and sports venues with its 5G deployment. The operator also noted work with the U.K.’s Network Rail and Northumbrian Water group to “help build the 5G economy.”

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Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G is the only current 5G device available for O2 customers, with the Xiaomi Mix 3 5G debuting in August. O2 said additional devices will be rolled out and ready ahead of the October network launch and 5G service will be available to both consumer and business customers. More details on O2’s service plans, handsets and devices will come later this year.

RELATED: EE to launch first commercial 5G network in U.K. May 30

“As we switch on our network across the country, our intelligence-led rollout prioritizes the key areas in towns and cities first – the places where our customers need, and will use, 5G the most. We’re also giving our customers maximum flexibility with our industry-leading custom plans, letting people adopt 5G at a time that’s right for them,” said Mark Evans, CEO of Telefónica U.K., in a release.

In its announcement, O2 emphasized that it’s still committed to upgrading its 4G network across the country. The operator cited a survey from YouGov that found only 11% of U.K. consumers believe operators should prioritize 5G rollouts, while 31% want improved 4G to be more of a priority.

BT-owned U.K. mobile operator EE launched commercial 5G service in late May, while competitor Vodafone’s 5G network went live in London and six other cities in early July.

Yesterday, O2 announced it has extended its existing network sharing agreement with Vodafone to help speed up and reduce the cost of rolling out 5G. 

RELATED: Vodafone goes live with 5G in London, 6 more U.K. cities

According to O2, the arrangement includes sharing 5G equipment, such as radio equipment, on joint sites across the U.K.

The companies also agreed to more 5G network autonomy on about 2,700 (representing 16%) of their combined cell sites across 23 cities in the U.K. At these sites Vodafone and O2 will share physical elements, like the tower, but will each install their own radio equipment, fiber backhaul connection, and power supply.

O2 said it gives both parties more flexibility to meet customer needs and to deploy future network technologies.

“This agreement will enable us to roll-out 5G faster and more efficiently, benefiting customers while delivering value for our business,” said Evans in the announcement. “It also importantly allows us to utilize the spectrum we acquired in the last auction very effectively.”

O2 won 40 MHz of spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band at the UK’s 5G spectrum auction last year, spending EUR 318 million ($354 million).

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