16 Big U.K. Cities Could Get 5G Services in 2019

(Bloomberg) -- BT Group Plc’s wireless unit EE plans to start fifth-generation wireless services in 16 U.K. cities next year as the former monopoly seeks to lure customers with increased reliability and download speeds.

The first cities to be switched on will be the U.K.’s four capitals -- London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, BT said in an emailed statement Tuesday. Birmingham and Manchester, Britain’s second, and third-largest metropolitan areas, will also get 5G next year.

The push into 5G services is a way to supercharge a consumer division that has been one of the few bright spots for a carrier under regulatory pressure to boost takeup of faster internet services from its wholesale broadband network. BT shares jumped the most in five years this month after quarterly earnings showed an overhaul by outgoing Chief Executive Officer Gavin Patterson is kicking in, smoothing the way for his successor, Philip Jansen.

“The U.K. was the 54th country to launch 4G, behind countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan, and it’s great to see that the country’s learnt its lesson for 5G,” Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, said at a news conference.

The network is set to face challenges with planning permission and access, which Allera said were “harder than ever” to get. A hurdle for 5G also lies with power levels, because they have to stay below regulated output levels, he said.

The first 1,500 locations that EE is upgrading to 5G will include London’s Hyde Park and Manchester Airport. The carrier is currently testing 5G in Canary Wharf and other parts of east London.

The phone company will launch 5G with an EE-branded home router as an alternative to fixed broadband. BT will announce smartphone partners in the coming weeks. BT stressed that 5G won’t replace 4G, and the company will also expand coverage of its current network.

5G promises blazing-fast speeds and is capable of accommodating many more connected devices. Britain sold some 5G-ready spectrum in an April auction that raised 1.36 billion pounds ($1.76 billion) -- more than expected -- and has plans to sell other spectrum next year.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.