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Vodafone bringing 5G in 19 UK cities by end of 2019

The first carrier to flip the switch on 5G in the UK wants to offer the broadest coverage, too.

Vodafone puts first 5G mobile station into operation
Vodafone switched on 5G in October 2018.
Picture Alliance/Getty Images

Vodafone will offer 5G in 19 cities across the UK by year's end, the carrier said Thursday.

Vodafone is keen to preserve its lead in 5G, after activating the UK's first 5G network in Salford, Greater Manchester, in October. The company has now extended coverage to Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool and is currently preparing equipment in Birmingham, Glasgow and London.

5G, the next generation of mobile network technology, promises to boost data speeds to up to 10 times what we're currently used to, as well as making connections more stable and offering more bandwidth for other technologies such as virtual reality, autonomous vehicles and the internet of things. Even though the first 5G networks were switched on last year, it's only been in the last couple of weeks that 5G has truly become a reality. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and Samsung's Unpacked event in San Francisco, the first few phones that can connect to 5G networks were unveiled.

The race to be first to 5G hasn't been as aggressive in the UK as in the US and South Korea, But over the past year or so, two of the UK's big four operators have significantly stepped up their game.

In December at a Qualcomm summit in Hawaii, carrier EE announced it would bring 5G connectivity to 16 UK cities in 2019. Vodafone previously announced it would launch 5G in seven cities this year. But in a bid to outdo EE, Vodafone on Thursday added another 12 to its list: Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.

"Vodafone appears to be ahead of the chasing pack in its infrastructure and preparedness," Ernest Doku, head of mobile for comparison service uSwitch, said in a statement.

With EE and Vodafone steaming ahead, the other two major UK carriers -- Three and O2 -- have also pledged significant investment to build out their 5G networks this year. Still, 2020 is expected to be the year when 5G really takes off. In the meantime, the introduction of 5G tech is also set to boost the strength and speed of 4G. That means that whether or not you opt for a 5G phone, you may notice a boost in network performance.

Corrections at 8:27 a.m. PT: Vodafone is preparing 5G equipment in Birmingham, Glasgow and London. The Qualcomm event was in Hawaii.