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5G just hit UK, and it’s super-fast

EE turned on the UK’s first 5G network today, across London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, and Manchester. 5G connectivity is now available in limited parts of these cities, more than a month before rival Vodafone plans to launch its own 5G service. I took to the streets of London today to test out 5G, armed with a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G handset. I’m impressed with the early results.

While 5G coverage has been extremely limited with Verizon’s 5G network in the US, it’s a whole different story in London. EE has focused its initial coverage on popular tourist destinations across London, including areas like St Paul’s, Covent Garden, Soho, The Strand, Tower Bridge, and London Bridge. I visited a number of different locations today and performed speed tests against both the 4G and 5G networks of EE.

Now, I know these 5G networks aren’t being fully utilized right now, but the average speeds were still a 10x improvement over what I was seeing on 4G. I’d say the average I was seeing was around 200 Mbps on 5G, compared to around 25 Mbps on 4G in the same spot. I didn’t have to stand in a very precise location to get a 5G signal most of the time, and I was able to walk freely along The Strand, into Covent Garden, and even into London Charing Cross Station all while connected continuously to 5G. The best speed I recorded in this area was around 510 Mbps, close to the popular area of Covent Garden during the peak lunch hour.

Most of my testing was performed outside, but I even managed to test the 5G signal inside a lunch spot and Charing Cross Station. Inside a Pret a Manger, I was averaging around 60 Mbps, compared to the 200 Mbps outside the building. But inside Charing Cross Station, I saw speeds of 200 Mbps. I even took a train from Charing Cross Station through to London Bridge, and the 5G signal was maintained for part of the journey between Waterloo East and far outside of London Bridge. Even with the train moving, I was consistently hitting speeds in excess of 200 Mbps, and at one point when it was moving slowly, this jumped all the way up to 980 Mbps.

The worst part about this current 5G implementation is that upload speeds are the same as 4G right now. The max I hit during my testing was a measly 33 Mbps, which is far from the average of 200 Mbps down. That’s the most disappointing aspect of EE’s 5G network for me so far, alongside the limited coverage. EE is promising to add 100 cell sites per month and that download speeds should be between 100 to 150 Mbps quicker on 5G than 4G. There’s no promise on upload speeds, though.

I’ve only managed to test the network for a few hours today, but that was enough to drain the phone’s battery from 50 percent to nothing on just speed tests alone, using a mixture of the Fast app and Ookla’s Speedtest app. I’m planning to spend the next week testing out this 5G network in various locations and getting a good idea of latency, too. The promise of 5G isn’t just about the bandwidth improvements alone; it’s also about the latency improvements for activities like streaming games from the cloud.

Much like using a 1 Gbps connection at home, it’s hard to measure the benefits of 5G right now. Yes, everything naturally loads faster, but it feels like I’m using a really good Wi-Fi connection. The most practical benefit I immediately noticed was being able to stream 1440p HDR content through YouTube and easily scrubbing to any section of the video instantly. It’s these little things that count in the short term, but apps and services have been built to cache and load balance this very carefully for years. That means not all services even have the capacity to meet your connection and transfer data as quickly as your device can handle.

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