UK telecom company O2 has announced the launch of its 5G mobile network this October, in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, and Slough, according to BBC News. The following summer, it will expand the network to a total of 50 cities.
The company will first deploy 5G in areas with capacity that is often pushed to its limits, like train stations, popular shopping areas, and entertainment venues. BT and Vodafone are already offering 5G, and Three’s 5G network is set to come online in August. But industry analysts say the late launch is not likely to disadvantage O2.
“There’s been a lot of talk about speed, but actually there aren’t the apps and services there for customers to tap into that in any great way yet,” according to Kester Mann, of the consultant group CCS Insight. “So, these are just the very first steps in a 5G marathon.”
While it’s the last UK provider to put a 5G network in place, it’s also the only one that isn’t using components from the controversial Chinese telecom giant Huawei. While they trialed Huawei’s equipment at cell towers, the company ultimately decided against using it for their network.
“We respect all three operators, they were thorough in their submissions,” the company’s CEO, Mark Evans, said to the BBC. “But we were convinced that the best choices for us at this time are our current partners, which are Ericsson and Nokia.”
O2 previously worked with both companies in their 4G networks.
Earlier in the week, UK authorities postponed their widely anticipated decision on whether Huawei equipment will be allowed in the UK’s mobile networks, amid pressure from the US, which claims that the company could be used to facilitate spying by China’s government. Huawei denies the claim, and argues there is no evidence behind it.
While Theresa May had appeared to signal an openness to managing any risks around Huawei, the prospect of a new cabinet under Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dashed hopes of gaining certainty from regulators.
O2 has said it won’t rule out buying equipment from Huawei in the future, and that the competition helped them negotiate a lower price from Ericsson and Nokia.
“The least we need is clarity of who we can work with and under what circumstances,” Evans said. “Not having that clarity is frustrating because that undoubtedly could slow us down in either our decision making or our execution. So, I would still encourage the government to conclude their review and finalize their judgement ASAP.”