Three is finally set to switch on its 5G network, following delays which will see it launch the service months after rival networks.
The telecommunications firm pledged that 5G would be available by the end of February in 65 locations including London, Manchester, Cardiff, Reading, and Bristol.
While the 5G network was technically already in operation (it began to go live in August last year), its availability was initially restricted to central London and the only way to use it was via their dedicated unlimited Three Broadband service rather than through a standard smartphone contract. Nevertheless the operator claimed their initial customers were still enjoying average speeds of 232Mbps, with a peak of 1.1Gbps: an increase on the 30Mbps achieved with 4G devices.
The firm is the last of the big four UK networks to introduce the next generation wireless technology to smartphones, which was originally due to arrive by the end of 2019.
Three blamed the delays on a number of issues, from acquiring the right planning permissions from landlords to arranging 5G equipment on masts, claiming that these issues forced it to push its target “slightly behind”.
In 2018 Three tried to limit how much spectrum individual networks could buy in an attempt to even the playing field between competitors. In the initial auction it ended up buying less spectrum than the competing networks and spent considerably less money on it than its rivals. Nevertheless it says it will be able to harness a total of about 140MHz across several related radio spectrum bands; one of those includes a 100MHz block of contiguous spectrum in the 3.4-3.8GHz band which is known to be the sweet spot for 5G.
Three also said that those with a 5G-capable handset will be able to access 5G speeds at no extra cost to their existing data plan.
To mark the expansion to smartphones, Three has partnered with Central Saint Martins College to create an immersive 5G experience for London Fashion Week, using spatial audio, haptic feedback, a 46m projection the length of the runway, and an array of aromas. The finale will culminate in an empty catwalk, with a 5G-fuelled digital version of model Adwoa Aboah, who will walk out in the last outfit of the show.
“Today we are celebrating what is possible through 5G with a showcase of our ultra-fast 5G capabilities marking the next step in our 5G journey,” Three chief executive Dave Dyson said. “5G is set to change the world for all of us and we can’t wait for our customers to start experiencing it.”
Rivals EE launched their 5G offering to smartphones in May, followed by Vodafone in July, and O2 in October.