UK operators slug it out with new 5G projects, spending

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EE, O2 and Three have continued their race to be the UK's leading 5G operator with new masts, new investment and new connected car projects.

O2 announced this morning that it was building what it claimed to be Europe's largest fibre connected small cell network.

The infrastructure will enable connectivity on a 50 mile stretch of road between the cities of Birmingham and Coventry that will be devoted to testing connected cars.

O2 will work with the independent hardware vendor the Wireless Infrastructure Group to place smart vehicle monitoring, data analytics and 5G ready wireless infrastructure along the route.

Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2, said: “Following our successful deployment of the UK’s first centralised radio network (C-RAN) in Aberdeen, in partnership with WIG, we will be using this same cutting-edge technology across what we expect to be Europe’s largest fibre connected small cell network. 

"Mobile powers our modern world and 5G has even more potential to move Britain forward which is why we’re excited to be working together with WIG to continue to build this technology into the fabric of our cities and communities.”

Meanwhile, EE launched a connected car service for enterprises looking to track the location, performance and driving patterns of their fleet of vehicles.

The Auto Mate device is plugged into a vehicle and collects telematics and diagnostic data including the likes of health and fuel efficiency, location, traffic and speed routes.

A big data platform interprets the information, which can then be accessed via an app or online portal.

Late last year, Vodafone introduced its own "plug and drive" dongle, which provides the likes of driving statistics and other services.

The operator also switched on nine 5G test masts in central London yesterday.

It warned that introducing 5G masts would require the strengthening of rooftops, overcoming planning permission issues and regulation requiring some sites to stay below certain energy levels.

Howard Watson, BT CTIO, said: “Deploying this brand new layer of our EE mobile network is far from straightforward, and this trial has helped us to understand – and learn how to overcome – the significant challenges that we’ll face in the coming years.

"We’re also learning about the coverage we can achieve with 5G New Radio on our new 3.4GHz spectrum, both indoors and in densely cluttered streets.”

Last month Vodafone switched on its first 5G mast in Manchester in the north of England.

Finally, Three UK announced it was spending £2 billion to get its network match fit for 5G.

At an event yesterday the operator said it wanted to move towards to a data driven, flexible, scalable and digital network.

To do so, it is upgrading and building a new RAN, new core, new IT and introducing a new operating model.

[Read more: Jones leaves Three UK CTO role with tech duties to be split across operator]

It has been working with Nokia since the beginning of last year on core and IP network modernisation. IBM, Tech Mahindra and TCTS are upgrading the operator's IT systems.

It also recently clinched a deal with Huawei to handle its transition plan for new RAN and access transport services.

The operator recently moved from three to 20 data centres offering 10GBps per site.

It plans to introduce 5G next year and recently boosted its spectrum holding in the UK's auction although critics claimed it needed to do more to support its data hungry customer base.