EE 5G was the first to launch in the UK, with the UK's second-biggest network clearly intent on being in the box seat for customers wondering what network to choose.
BT now owns EE, of course, and BT Mobile is actually an MVNO working on EE's network. As part of this, BT has also launched a combined 5G mobile and home broadband plan called BT Halo which offers unlimited data and calls on mobile and at home, something also offered by Vodafone Together. BT has also launched Hybrid Broadband, normal fibre which is backed up by cellular, but this is 4G not 5G at present.
Although EE wasn't pleased by its share of 5G spectrum in the first Ofcom 5G auction (40Mhz in the 3.4Ghz band), Ofcom's 2021 auction has been a success for EE - to won 2x10 MHz of paired frequency spectrum in the 700 MHz band at a cost of £280,000,000; 20 MHz of supplementary downlink spectrum in the 700MHz band at a cost of £4,000,000; and 40 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band at a cost of £168,000,000. That's a combined outlay of around £450 million.
EE has now stated that it aims to have 5G across at least 90 percent of the UK by 2028 (measured by landmass) and it will do this by combining low band spectrum into the mix. That's the 700Mhz allocation we've talked about above.
Indeed, it has already begun to roll this out. The network is set to launch its new 5G core network in 2023 at which point EE says that its 5G network will cover around half of the UK's population.
EE has form for using big-name music stars to promote 5G - it held a gig with Stormzy on the River Thames to promote the launch of its 5G network and, of course, EE also sponsors the Glastonbury Festival each year.
EE also streamed a 360-degree augmented reality (AR) Bastille concert from Birmingham New Street station to Edinburgh and Liverpool. Members of the public in the latter two cities could watch the gig on devices provided by EE reps including the Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G and some AR glasses. AR visuals surrounded the band, adding to the experience.
And recently, EE used the Galaxy S21 and its 5G installation at Wembley Stadium to stage the world's first 5G AR Foosball tournament between Gareth Southgate and other well-lnown football figures.
EE has also just launched an ad showing a slightly over-the-top depiction of what's capable with 5G, shaving Lucifer actor Tom Ellis being shaved by a robotic arm on top of Mount Snowdon. The catch is the arm is being controlled by a barber 250 miles away in London, who just happens to be joined by EE ad regular Kevin Bacon. The ad is designed to showcase a situation where you'd be in a bad way if your network let you down... Here's the ad:
Once again EE has been named as the UK's top network in independent tests by RootMetrics. The UK-wide aggregate median download speed was over twice as fast as that of any other UK network at 58.8Mbps.
However, what's more interesting for us here is 5G performance. Here EE took top spot in RootMetrics Everyday 5G rating. This is basically a rating based on availability plus speed and reliability.
The network's highest availability is in Birmingham, where it covers just shy of 65 percent of the city.
EE 5G cities and towns
EE has 5G service in 160 UK towns and cities currently. That's not as many as some other networks, though BT/EE consumer chief Marc Allera says that other networks don't have the same level of coverage when they 'claim' a new location has 5G.
"When EE announces it has switched on a new place with 5G, there must be meaningful levels of coverage there, which we assess with clear benchmarks and strict criteria which need to be met.
"We could loosen our criteria like some competitors; to be honest, it’s tempting, by so doing we would reveal 5G is actually in around 200 unique locations across the UK. However, we believe our claims should be as credible as our 5G is usable. We do not take our customers’ experience for granted."
The latest major switch on in April 2021 saw 35 new locations added. The latest places include tourist landmarks such as Brighton Pier, York Minster, Swansea Bay and Sandbanks Beach.
Recently-enabled towns and cities are: Aldridge, Alexandria, Aylesbury, Ayr, Barnsley, Biggleswade, Blackburn, Bolton, Brighton. Chester, Colchester, Dundee, Exeter, Grantham, Gravesend, Harrogate, Lincoln, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Paignton, Poole, Portsmouth, Rickmansworth, Runcorn, Southport, Stockton-on-Tees, Stoke-on-Trent, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sunbury-on-Thames, Swansea, Swindon, Widnes, Wigan, Worcester and York.
Then, in June 2021, EE turned on 5G in a few more coastal locations as part of its beefing up of connectivity across coastal locations generally (mostly using 4G in places like Blackpool, Bournemouth and Brighton), The latest 5G locations to be enabled are:
EE says it is doing this in anticipation of a bumper 'staycation' summer in the UK as foreign holiday opportunities remain scarce.
Coverage remains fairly centred on built-up zones in all these areas and it's always worth checking out the EE coverage checker to see how widespread it is.
5G is also available at the following public transport hotspots in London: Euson, Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Charing Cross, Highbury, Islington, New Cross Gate Overground and Shoreditch High Street Overground. You can also get 5G access in London’s Piccadilly Circus, Clapham Common, and Hampton Court Palace gardens among other places.
Other high footfall locations covered include Cardiff Central station, Glasgow’s Bath Street, Bath's Royal Cresent and Pulteney Bridge as well as Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium.
EE 5G phones
EE has the best range of 5G phones available from any UK network and we've listed them all for you below along with the best deals currently around.
EE's range of 5G phones are available both online and in store. All these phones are available on EE 5G Smart Plan with unlimited minutes and texts and various amounts of data (including unlimited).
All of EE's 5G phones are marked Ready for 5G on EE's site.
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
Like all networks, EE is carrying the 2021 Galaxy S21. It's not the most striking entry to the series, but this 6.2-inch handset is a solid effort. And it's extremely powerful too, with Samsung's own octa-core Exynos 2100 featuring on all units in the UK and Europe. It's got great battery life and a camera system that takes some really top-notch shots. It's a triple camera setup, with 12 megapixel wide, 64 megapixel telephoto and 12 megapixel ultrawide cameras.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The S21 Ultra is the pick of Samsung's 2021 handsets and is one of the best Android phones we've ever seen. As well as Samsung's Exynos 2100 platform under the surface, there's also five cameras in this phone! That includes the best optical zoom of any phone camera, too, with 10x on the periscope telephoto lens. It's available in four colours - Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violeta and Phantom Pink.
Apple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 12 series may be Apple's first 5G phone, but this is a very powerful handset with a price tag to match - the monthly costs are quite considerable on EE. As well as the standard iPhone 12, there's an iPhone 12 mini as well if you want a smaller handset instead. Both iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are available in Black, White, Red, Green and Blue. The great thing about the standard iPhone 12 is that it makes the step up to the iPhone 12 Pro look a little unnecessary.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max
The iPhone 12 Pro is the same 6.1-inch size as the standard iPhone 12 and as such is a little bit of a hard sell as it's considerably more than the so-called 'normal' model. The Pro Max, however, is supersized with a 6.7-inch monster display. Expect extremely expensive monthly deals on this phone, but the result is an incredible new 5G phone that you'll love.
Google Pixel 5
The 6-inch Pixel 5 is a very popular phone already and features the very latest Android operating system as you'd expect from the official Google phone. There's an OLED display plus 128GB of storage and 8GB of memory plus a dual lens camera system (12.2 wide and 16 megapixel ultrawide). The device - like other Pixel phones - is based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G hardware.
Oppo Find X3 Pro
The Oppo Find X3 Pro features some cutting-edge hardware including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform powering everything along plus a 120hz display. There are also dual 50 megapixel cameras plus super-quick 65W SuperVOOC 2.0 Fast Charging. EE is also offering the other devices in the same range - the Find X3 Lite and Find X3 Neo.
Samsung Galaxy S20 5G
Available in cloud pink, cloud blue and cosmic grey, the standard S20 may only come in a 128GB variant but this is an extremely powerful handset with Samsung's new eight-core Exynos platform and 5G modem.
It's not a small phone as it has a 6.2-inch AMOLED display. You'll have to look elsewhere for that. The other two S20 handsets are even bigger and, while the other S20's pack a quad camera, this still has a triple, with a 64 megapixel sensor as the main lens. There's a 30x zoom, too.
Samsung Galaxy S20+
Once again available in three colours, the S20+ ups the ante over the standard S20 in two ways - firstly the camera system and secondly the larger display. This adds an extra half an inch, so it's 6.7-inches.
It's available in 128 and 512GB versions and the triple camera unit once again features a 30x zoom and 64 megapixel main lens as well as a 12MP ultra-wide camera. There's also fast charging like the other S20s, too, while it's available in cloud blue, cosmic black and cosmic grey. No pink this time.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
WIth an even larger screen than the S20+, the S20 Ultra takes the S20 range to the max. Mind you, while the S20 Ultra is a step up from the S20+, it's not a huge upgrade. You get a 6.9-inch display this time.
Aside from the screen size, the main difference is in the camera. There's not only a huge 108 megapixel lens, but it also has a 100x zoom (rather than 30x). The 108 megapixel lens sits alongside a 48 megapixel telephoto camera. The 100x zoom is more fun than something genuinely useful, but even so it's pretty cool.
The S20 Ultra is available in 128 and 512GB versions with cosmic black or cosmic grey colour finishes.
Samsung A90 5G
EE seems determined to offer a selection of 5G devices to suit all sorts and like its rivals has also taken up the mantle of the A90 5G - a mid-range 5G handset from Samsung. We say mid-range as it's cheaper than the flagship S Series and Note Series below, but the specs here are anything but, with a 6.7-inch display, 48 megapixel main camera, octocore processor and 128GB of storage. For many, this will be the Samsung 5G phone to get - and who can blame them?
EE 5G coverage
In terms of speeds so far, we've seen upwards of 400-600Mbps in London, but expect speeds at the lower end of this scale generally. As you'd expect, speeds do remain very variable and you'll notice your phone flipping back to 4G a lot. That's always going to be the case at the moment; as with all the networks, this is the start of a process.
Like the other UK networks, EE uses some Huawei kit in its 3G and 4G network, but it started a process some time ago to remove Huawei gear from its core network and it isn't involved in the 5G core network.
Three and EE work together to share key infrastructure between their networks - masts primarily - and work with Ericsson on this.
However, the UK Government ban on using Huawei gear in 5G networks is going to cause BT/EE some challenges. However, the cost hasn't risen further than BT's original estimate for the removal of Huawei gear - £500 million providing it doesn't need to be done quicker than 2027.
EE seems confident that it is offering a great customer experience on 5G - back to consumer CEO Marc Allera and his mid-January 2021 comment piece on the issues of other networks not delivering on the coverage they promise:
"We know, through independent analysts, that networks which rush to announce places without proper coverage can offer a much narrower customer experience.
"It's not just about the number of towns and cities – although our expanding network means our customers still have access to the most extensive 5G coverage in the UK - it's the quality and availability of your 5G connection that counts.
"The lack of consistency in how, where and when networks claim to have 5G is frustrating. Yes, it’s frustrating to us; every fair and meaningful award for network coverage EE repeatedly wins. But it’s also frustrating for customers, who might buy into a claim only to be disappointed with the actual coverage they receive. It’s an area we are keen to address and are already working with Ofcom to monitor."
As part of their arrangement with Ofcom, the big four UK networks have also had to commit to bringing 4G to coverage to a greater percentage of rural areas, too - indeed it could mean that 92 percent of the UK will be covered. The networks won't have to guarantee any particular levels of 5G coverage for the foreseeable future, however, which will have interesting implications for rural areas.
EE 5G deals
EE's business price plans for 5G include unlimited data, anytime upgrade and free Mobile Iron Threat Defense. You can also choose a tailored plan with Business Select. While roaming in Europe is free (though data is subject to a 60GB a month fair use cap), you can add rest of the world roaming or a calling abroad option to make sure the tariff is suitable for your needs.
Three months after launching 5G, EE also announced several Unlimited data plans for consumers, too. The move has to be seen as a reaction to Vodafone parking its tanks on EE's lawn with three unlimited data plans called Unlimited Lite, Unlimited and Unlimited Max plans, all of which are 5G-ready.
However, while Vodafone's are speed restricted (or, rather, the two cheapest tariffs are), EE's don't have any speed restriction. They, are, however, generally more expensive, with SIM-only 5G plans starting at £44 a month for a 5G Smart SIM. That is completely unlimited data, calls and texts.
The deals also come with swappable benefits such as Amazon Prime Video, access to the BT Sport app or a roaming package called Roam Further so you can use your inclusive data in the USA, Australia and elsewhere.
EE has also announced an exclusive Xbox Game Pass Ultimate add-on with inclusive data. The offer enables all EE Android smartphone customers on a Smart or Essential plan to access Xbox Game Pass Ultimate with unlimited data for just £10 per month, saving over £100 a year.
As part of the celebration of its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate add-on, EE also announced two Gaming on the Go Pit Stops - one on Brighton seafront and another on Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock. Both are designed to showcase gaming over 5G.
EE 5G broadband
BT has launched Hybrid Connect, which is a broadband service that uses cellular data as a backup, but this isn't yet a 5G offering.
EE isn't making a massive play of 5G for home broadband but it has launched a service using the HTC 5G Mobile Smart Hub enabling you to share your 5G data for up to 20 users - ideal if you work out of the office as a team, such as at events where decent Wi-Fi coverage can't be assured.
Crucially, it can also be used on battery power, so you can work on your laptop with 5G when you're out and about.
Like many 5G phones, the HTC Hub is based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 platform and runs Android 9 Pie.
The device has a 7-inch display, 30 metre Wi-Fi range and a built-in Gigabit ethernet port. It also has 32GB of storage in addition to a speaker and microphone and can be used for media playback or with other Android apps should you wish.
The hub costs £500 as a standalone device or you can get it from EE with 5G for a upfront fee of £100 with either 50GB of monthly data on a £50 per month, 24-month plan, or with 100GB on a £75 per month.
EE 5G for business
EE offers businesses numerous options including flexible plans so you can swap any of the benefits like roaming, extra data and international calls as you need. You can also upgrade any time you choose.
There's also a data reserve feature so if you do happen to run out of data you won't be left unable to do important work. EE also sends out alerts for mobile security threats, too.
EE's Business SIM-only plans start at £24 a month (ex. VAT) for 20GB of data. That also includes unlimited data and texts.