BT lays out ambitious 5G plans for EE in U.K.

BT unveiled plans to offer 5G across the entire U.K., combining its mobile, Wi-Fi and fiber infrastructures to become what it considers the first fully converged network in the U.K.

“We’re making a uniquely ambitious, long-term commitment to drive high performance 5G further and faster, and to integrate it at the core with our fiber network for a seamless customer experience,” said Philip Jansen, chief executive of BT Group, in a statement. “Openreach was first to fiber, EE was first to 5G and together BT will be first to a fully converged future.”

EE is BT’s mobile network and it expects to extend 5G coverage deeper into rural areas, adding more than 4,500 square miles of new signal by 2025. EE was the first to launch 5G two years ago and will grow to cover half of the U.K. population by early 2023, four years ahead of the U.K. government’s expectations.

EE will use new 700 MHz spectrum to reach its goal of providing signals to more than 90% of U.K. land mass by 2028. That spectrum will be deployed across the majority of EE sites for stronger indoor and wider rural coverage.

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Redditch, Morecambe and Cramlington will be the first U.K. towns to benefit, with customers able to access the signal from a growing range of 5G handsets. In addition, BT said its increasing role in the deployment of neutral host systems – third-party infrastructure that can be used by multiple networks – will support better 4G and 5G coverage in busy environments like airports, stadiums and campuses.

BT expects to phase out its 3G network connections by 2023, noting that 3G usage has been in a steady decline and represents less than 2% of data traffic over the EE network. That spectrum will be repurposed for 5G.

More to come

To realize its 5G ambitions, BT said it will be developing a range of “on demand” coverage solutions, including portable cells for temporary mobile connectivity for customers when they request it and at a lower cost than building traditional cell sites. A fleet of rapid response vehicles will be expanded and diversified to provide enhanced coverage or capacity in remote areas.

BT is also targeting the greater use of air and space technologies, including drones and Low Earth Orbit satellites, and last month signed an early agreement with OneWeb to drive the technology applications forward.

“Together, the plans offer the most comprehensive and versatile mobile network ever delivered in the U.K., with permanent or ‘on demand’ solutions allowing customers to find, request and enjoy mobile connectivity when they want, wherever they want,” BT said in a press release.

BT said plans include a new 5G core network control system that will launch by 2023, built on BT’s distributed network cloud infrastructure and combining all digital networks. Increasingly, it will be using machine learning to predict and resolve issues before they affect customers and automatically route services through the best available connection.

According to Richard Webb, director, network infrastructure at CCS Insight, BT has set out a comprehensive vision for its network and set some aggressive targets for network coverage on both mobile and fixed networks.

“Ultimately, 5G is at the heart of this vision, as part of an ecosystem of technologies including fiber, Wi-Fi and satellite, but also the ‘3 As’ of automation, AI and analytics, plus machine learning and edge computing, and software-defined cloud networking – collectively, a robust arsenal of capabilities to power future use cases,” Webb said in a statement. “And whilst the focus is very much on the network and its flexibility, this also shows something of BT’s strategy for its own transformation into an enhanced connectivity, IT and digital services provider through the 2020s.”