EE to switch on UK's first 5G network on May 30

The network announced its 5G launch date at an event in London on Wednesday.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
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UK - Brands - Sign for mobile phone shop EE

EE will be the UK's first network to switch on commercial 5G.

Mike Kemp/In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

UK mobile carrier EE announced its plans to launch 5G in the UK on Wednesday. The network will be switched on on May 30, with the first 5G phones available to preorder from today.

EE's initial 5G rollout will focus on six cities (London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester), with promises to expand to 19 cities by the end of the year. EE CEO Marc Allera promised EE 5G customers would experience average download speeds of 156mbps. It will be "like having a lane of the motorway all to yourself," he said, speaking at an event in London.

The first devices EE will offer on its 5G plans include the OnePlus 7 Pro , the Samsung Galaxy S10 , the Oppo Reno 5G, the LG V50 ThinQ, a 5G home router and an HTC Wi-Fi device. Plans start from £54 per month (for 10GB of data) and extend up to £74 per month (for 120GB of data).

Earlier this month, EE announced it would offer the Huawei Mate 20 X as one of the first 5G phones it offered to customers, but due to the developments earlier this week calling into question the future of Android on Huawei phones, the network has pulled them from its initial 5G device lineup. "We've put the Huawei devices on pause until we've got a bit more information on that," said Allera.

EE's announcement on Wednesday means it's the first UK network to launch commercial 5G. Following swiftly in its footsteps on July 3 is Vodafone. Three and O2 are also expected to launch 5G networks this year, but no dates have been set at this stage.

"With every new generation of wireless, this is where leaders are proven," said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon, also speaking at the launch event. "EE is making such a strong statement here today."

5G will open up a whole new world of tech-powered experiences, including autonomous vehicles, smart cities and VR. But it also promises to improve our day-to-day experiences of using our phones. Not only will it boost data speeds, but it should improve coverage as networks continue to get to increasingly congested.

"5G will not replace 4G, it becomes another asset in our network," said Allera. He promised the network wouldn't throttle its 4G to make its 5G seem faster, but said that in the initial stages the two networks would work together to provide customers with the best experience.

This first phase of EE's 5G rollout will see 1,500 sites go live over the next couple of years, with the second and third phases of the rollout slated for 2022 and 2023 respectively. Phase two will bring the full next-generation 5G core network, while EE envisions phase three enabling the "tactile internet," where a sense of touch can be added to remote real-time interactions.