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O2 5G has now launched in the UK, and it has followed the other networks in launching unlimited 5G data tariffs where possible and no premium for 5G services.
The UK's second biggest network launched its 5G service on 17 October, but has spent much of 2019 focused on making its 4G network (which is, of course, the backbone for 5G) as good as it could be and is investing around £2 million a day into its infrastructure.
It's tempting to say that O2 is currently playing catchup, but this isn't a situation that's likely to last. After all, there are relatively small numbers of UK consumers on 5G tariffs currently. And O2's large customer base means it can market heavily to an already-converted crowd.
As with all the networks O2 hosts several large MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) on its network such as Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff (indeed, it also owns Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile is a joint venture with Tesco). The rollout of 5G on those services will obviously depend on O2's rollout.
We'll bring you additional information on those services when live.
O2 5G cities and towns
O2 has launched 5G in each of the UK's capital cities - London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in a similar move to the other networks. Additionally, O2 has rolled out 5G to Leeds (where it has an office) as well as O2's home town of Slough where its head office is based.
By the end of the year, O2 intends to bring 5G to parts of 20 towns and cities and the aim is 50 by summer 2020.
In 2019 the target towns and cities will be covered: Belfast, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Eton, Guildford, Leeds, Leicester, Lisburn, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Reading, Slough, Stoke and Windsor. There's a bit of creativity here - putting Eton and Windsor separately is a bit of a cop-out considering they are pretty much the same place and super-close to also-listed Slough for that matter.
Obviously we're quite late in 2019 now, so we're interested to know if O2 will confirm 5G services in some more locations soon.
By Summer 2020, the extra 30 places that'll be 5G-enabled are: Aberdeen, Bradford, Brighton, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Cambridge, Glasgow, Hove, Kingston, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newbury, Newcastle, Northampton, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Sunderland, Warrington and Wolverhampton. Again, it's tempting to conclude that listing Brighton and Hove separately is a little desperate.
O2 has also announced that it will be bringing 5G to major transport hubs and entertainment venues. The O2 in London's North Greenwich is an obvious target there, as is Twickenham Stadium because of its sponsorship of the England Rugby team.
The company is also set to work with Network Rail and Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) on its 5G rollout. Network Rail is an obvious fit - Vodafone has also kitted out Birmingham New Street for 5G, for example - but NWG is less obvious.
However, O2 is working with NWG to explore how 5G tech can be used to aid its business - it owns a group of UK water companies and employs 3,200, many of whom work outside traditional office environments.
When live, O2 will add 5G to its network coverage checker.
O2 5G phones
O2 has a slightly smaller selection of phones available than the other major UK networks (with only two non-Samsung options) and it has only recently announced the Oppo Reno 5G for the network.
The landscape for 5G phones will be significantly different as we move into 2020, so expect there to be lots of new phone launches as well as announcements
Oppo Reno 5G
Oppo's 6.6-inch 5G handset has only just been announced for O2, so deals are still fairly scarce. It's a fairly new brand to the UK (in terms of smartphones, at least) but the company also owns OnePlus and so knows the UK market. Oppo is hoping to make hay with Huawei's trade ban from the US now having a practical impact in terms of bundling Google apps with new handsets. It certainly seems like Oppo is a name we'll be hearing a lot more about in 2020. As you might expect, this phone has a lot of similar tech to the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G available from EE (as is this phone, coincidentally). The standout features are to do the cameras, though. The front camera is most striking as it pops out in a 'shark fin' style from the top of the phone (see picture above). The rear camera is where the most interesting tech is, though - it has a 10x hybrid zoom lens (5x optical, enhanced by digital). That means you can grab some pretty great shots. It's available in ocean green and comes with a capacious 256GB of storage.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
Based around Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 platform, this Xiaomi handset doesn't lack in power, but it is a less well-known brand in case that bothers you. Xiaomi makes good phones though and the company has designs on larger market share in Europe. It's also not the most attractive here. But that said, it's currently the cheapest 5G phone you can get your hands on and for that alone it's worth a look. There’s a pop-up dual front camera plus you get dual 12 megapixel cameras on the rear.
Samsung A90 5G
Samsung has not been slow to put 5G-capable phones on sale, with the two handsets below with us first. However, the pricing on the Galaxy S10 5G and Note 10+ 5G are a bit too premium for many and Samsung hasn't been slow to realise that. The A Series is, notionally, Samsung's mid-range phone lineup, but the top handsets are nudging closer to the S Series in terms of what they can do. Indeed, the A90 5G spec sheet is barely indistinguishable from the S10 5G and also has a same-sized 6.7-inch display, too. There's also an octocore processor, 48 megapixel main camera (part of a triple lens setup) and 128GB of storage, so plenty of space for your stuff.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Powered by Samsung's own Exynos 9820 platform and 5G modem, the S10 5G was Samsung’s first 5G handset and has now been joined by the two other Samsung handsets here. The 5G version of the S10 is actually more Galaxy Note-sized. Indeed, it's even bigger than the 6.4-inch S10+ at an almost-ridiculous 6.7-inches. You get a larger battery to match at 4,500 mAh. There's also a quad-lens rear camera including wide, telephoto and ultrawide lenses.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
Only slightly larger than the above S10 5G - by a mere 0.1-inches - this is a 6.8-inch supersized version of Samsung’s Galaxy Note. It's very similar to the S10 5G, although there are some compromises compared to that model, notably in the camera department where there's a triple instead of quad camera and on the front there's a single rather than dual. Of course, what you do get with every Galaxy Note is Samsung's excellent S Pen stylus that slots into the bottom of the phone (on one side). If you don't need the stylus, get the S10 5G instead.
O2 5G coverage
O2 remains owned by Spanish firm Telefónica who have several times tried to sell it, including back to BT (which O2 was spun out from in 2002). BT, of course, ended up buying EE instead. However, O2 is closest to another network - it has a long-standing network sharing deal with Vodafone.
The two networks have coordinated their efforts for some time - the key benefit behind is that they can speed up the rollout of 5G by sharing key infrastructure - the physical network sites where cell towers are based, the fibre backhaul as well as the mast and cell equipment.
As 5G becomes the norm, it will also help each to bring 5G services to areas where it may not have been financially viable otherwise.
The pair's agreement for the rollout sees 2,700 sites in 23 larger UK towns and cities keep separate provision for each network. So while the mast will remain shared, all the other equipment will be separate. That's presumably a matter if control and also, possibly, ensuring each retains a competitive edge.
O2 is using Ericsson Cloud Core technology in its main network as well as in the Radio Access Network (RAN). Coincidentally, Ericsson says it now has more than 70 5G agreements with networks, 21 of which are now live.
O2 5G deals
O2 has a range of unlimited data plans (limitless) in an effort to match the recently-announced unlimited plans from Vodafone who were followed by EE (Three already had unlimited tariffs, of course). O2's SIM-only unlimited plans start at £35 per month. These Limitless plans are also available as part of O2's Family and Student plans, too.
If you're OK with things being slightly more limited, there is a 50GB SIM-only data plan available for £25 a month. That'll bag you unlimited minutes and unlimited texts as well as O2 Priority access like all of O2's tariffs. You can also roam at no extra cost in 75 destinations including the USA.
O2's 5G custom plans give you freedom on the contract term, data allowance and upfront cost for your 5G phone. You can also choose how much you want to pay upfront and how to spread the remaining cost between 3 and 36 months. Furthermore, you can also flex your 5G data allowance up or down every month to suit your needs.
O2 has also announced a partnership tariff with Oculus from Facebook and MelodyVR.
O2 5G broadband
O2 hasn't yet announced any plans for a 5G home or business broadband service, but considering its key rivals all have, we think it's only a matter of time before it starts talking about this.
O2 5G for business
O2 believes that 5G is "one of the biggest opportunities for 5G is its potential to transform businesses. 5G is more than just pure connectivity. It has the potential to transform every sector it touches".
O2 has launched 5G business tariffs to suit businesses of every size, whatever the data requirements. SMB and Enterprise customers will benefit from 5G Access, details of which will be announced in the following months.
As we mentioned earlier, O2 has been working with NWG to explore ways in which remote workers will be assisted by 5G, as well as the potential for it in more traditional workplaces.
O2 has also announced a partnership with Samsung and the NHS to test 5G in six ambulances from the East of England Ambulance Trust to see how 5G can help paramedics treat patients through better connectivity and therefore better access to real-time video and scanning.
You're able to buy each of the 5G phones above on a business tariff.