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Vodafone wasn’t the first network to launch 5G in the UK, but it aims to be the most appealing to businesses and consumers with a bunch of unlimited tariffs.
Whereas once upon a time Vodafone could have been accused of resting on its laurels, it certainly can't be accused of that now - it wants to be the main 5G challenger for EE and sees 5G (and unlimited data) as a key part of that.
Vodafone is also the first to offer a 5G mobile and home broadband option for both business and home users, called Vodafone Together.
Vodafone is also making a play on being the first network to offer roaming on 5G - again it's hoping this will appeal to the corporate market. Although it’s restricted to Spain, Germany and Italy for now (and only in 5G areas in those countries, of course), it’s clearly an area where Vodafone thinks it can lead.
Read on for the full lowdown on how Vodafone is rolling out 5G technology.
Vodafone 5G cities and towns
Vodafone 5G coverage has already grown since launch and the service is now available in 15 UK towns and cities - these are: Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bolton, Bristol, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow, Lancaster, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newbury, Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton.
Vodafone says it will be rolling out 5G in Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton and Warrington before the end of this year, but expect the rollout to come to even more areas by the start of 2020. Gatwick Airport has also now been 5G-enabled with Vodafone.
You can see if Vodafone 5G is available in your area using the network using its network status checker.
Vodafone 5G phones
You’ll need to have a 5G phone to take advantage of 5G networks and Vodafone has announced several so far. There isn’t as a great a selection of manufacturers as there is with EE and Vodafone is predominantly putting its eggs in the Samsung basket, but it’s still early days.
You'll need a 5G ready plan and a 5G phone to connect to Vodafone 5G. If you’re buying a SIM-free 5G phone and want to use an existing contract you have with Vodafone, you’ll need a new SIM. If you’re buying a new 5G handset from Vodafone it will, of course, come with a 5G SIM.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
Although Xiaomi isn’t a particularly well-known name in the UK, its 6.4-inch Mi Mix 3 5G is a force to be reckoned with - the 64GB handset uses Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 855 platform so it’s super-fast. There’s a pop-up dual front camera plus 12 megapixel cameras on the rear. It is Vodafone’s entry-level 5G handset and so is the most accessible way to get access to 5G - it’s available on much cheaper tariffs than some of the other handsets.
Samsung A90 5G
The latest of Samsung's 5G handsets to launch after the Galaxy S10 5G and the Note 10+ 5G (both below), the A90 5G signals Samsung's intention to dominate the 5G space as best it can - these phones are not even including the mega-expensive Galaxy Fold foldable handset that has come to EE. The A90 5G may be positioned as a cheaper offering than Samsung's other handsets (as Samsung's A Series phones generally are) but this is still a remarkably capable handset with an octocore processor, 48 megapixel main camera (triple camera on the rear) and 128GB of storage. It's even got a 6.7-inch display, too, so it's the same size as the S10 5G below.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Launched earlier in the year alongside the S10, the S10 5G was Samsung’s first 5G handset. It has more in common with the larger S10+ but is supersized compared to that handset at a whopping 6.7-inches. There’s a supersized battery, too, at 4,500 mAh. Samsung’s own Exynos 9820 and 5G modem powers this handset which has a quadruple rear camera including wide, telephoto and ultrawide lenses.
Huawei Mate 20 X 5G
If you’re looking for large, you’ve just found it. Huawei’s first 5G device is absolutely massive, with a 7.2-inch display alongside 4,200mAh battery, 128GB storage and fast 40W charging. It’s powered by Huawei’s own, powerful, Kirin 980 platform and Balong 5000 5G modem. As for other Huawei 5G devices, expect a version of the upcoming Mate 30 Pro to be 5G capable as well, and have a smaller screen. Although Vodafone had originally announced the Mate 20 X 5G would be coming to its network, it didn’t make the handset available as early as the Xiaomi (below) because of Huawei’s trade ban in the US.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
This phone is larger than the S10 5G by 0.1-inches and it’s a brand new 6.8-inch version of Samsung’s Galaxy Note series which is now available to pre-order. The Note 10+ comes complete with the usual S Pen stylus that slots into the phone’s body and is also powered by Samsung’s latest Exynos 9825 processor and 5G modem. It also comes with 128GB of storage and has a large 4,300mAh battery, too.
Vodafone 5G coverage
Like other UK providers, Vodafone is using mid-band spectrum for its 5G services that's close to the frequencies used by 4G. They are not using higher frequency technologies unlike many of the US networks who are deploying millimetre wave (mmWave) from the off. mmWave promises higher speeds but the coverage is worse, meaning you need to have more nodes.
Naturally, to get Vodafone 5G, you’ll need to be in an area that has 5G coverage. Remember that, if you’re in an area that doesn’t have 5G, your phone will just step down to 4G, 3G or 2G and will switch back to 5G when available.
Vodafone is citing peak 5G speeds of peak speeds of 1Gbps - we’ve seen around 900Mbps next to a mast at Vodafone’s Newbury HQ - and average speeds of 150-200Mbps in other areas we’ve tried the signal.
We’ve seen speeds hit around 180Mbps while out and about in a couple of Vodafone 5G locations. It’s early days though, and real-world speeds will increase as the 5G rollout goes on.
Vodafone has a long-standing network sharing deal with O2 which it has now extended for 5G. The benefit to this is extensive, enabling both networks to roll out 5G services quicker, particularly in areas where it may not have been cost-effective to deploy 5G otherwise.
Within the agreement there is also provision for each network to ‘do their own thing’ at around 2,700 sites in 23 of the UK’s largest locations - that’s around 16 percent of Vodafone’s mast sites. At these places each network will install its own fibre backhaul connection and radio gear while still sharing the mast.
The separate arrangement means each network can keep control of its busiest locations and also deploy future tech that, presumably, it doesn’t want the other to access. At other locations, all the gear will be shared.
Interestingly, Vodafone has also started to share some of its 2600MHz frequency 4G spectrum with StrattoOpencell to offer high-speed mobile broadband in remote areas without fibre connectivity - the plan was hatched after Ofcom's decision in July 2019 to enable mobile operators to share spectrum.
StrattoOpencell will start to provide 120Mbps mobile broadband services to some users in Devon through a bunch of 4G outdoor small cells.
Obviously, this doesn't affect the 5G rollout for now, but it's an interesting method that could have implications for how 5G is rolled out to rural areas, too.
Vodafone 5G deals
Alongside the launch of 5G, Vodafone also announced a bunch of Unlimited data plans called Unlimited Lite, Unlimited and Unlimited Max plans, all of which are 5G-ready. These are also available for business users (at prices excluding UK VAT).
If you’re getting a 5G plan for business, you get a three month trial of Secure Net for protection against malicious sites and apps while you’re connected to the mobile network. Thereafter it will cost £1 a month - and you’ll need to make sure you cancel it if you don’t want it otherwise you will be automatically charged.
All three tariffs offer you completely unlimited 5G downloading, but they do so at different speeds. Our pick of the deals is Unlimited Max which offers you the maximum speed available for £30 a month (£25 ex-VAT for business). Below that, Unlimited Lite (£23 a month, £19.17 ex-VAT for business) and Unlimited (£26 a month, £21.67 ex-VAT for business) offer relatively poor download speeds of 2Mbps and 10Mbps respectively, so aren’t really worth the cost saving.
An Unlimited plan is a good idea for 5G downloads, because in our experience downloading over 5G can eat through data quickly.
However, you are also able to get Vodafone’s Red tariffs for 5G.Red 1 (1GB, £11), Red 2 (5GB, £15) and Red 3 (20GB, £20) all have unlimited minutes and texts. The Red plans include roaming in 48 destinations as standard. Unlimited Max includes roaming in 77 destinations.
Consumer customers can add an entertainment pack for just £6 a month and choose from Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, Sky Sports Mobile or Now TV.
For gamers, Vodafone has also teamed up with the Hatch game streaming service to offer three months free with any new Vodafone 5G phone.
Surprise, surprise, EE has now followed Vodafone and announced some unlimited data 5G tariffs, though these are a little more expensive.
Vodafone 5G broadband
Vodafone has also announced its broadband service that uses Huawei’s Huawei 5G CPE Pro router that Vodafone markets as its 5G Gigacube. It’s essentially a wireless router that has a nano SIM in it - there’s no fixed line connection, it just needs power.
You can, however, cable two devices like a Powerline network or games console directly into the router, it doesn’t just cater for wireless devices. Because it only needs power, you can theoretically use it anywhere, but it’s 21cm high so it’s not exactly portable.
The business and consumer Gigacube tariffs are, essentially the same but Vodafone clearly sees the potential for Gigacube to help teams to work remotely en mass - such as at a corporate event, trade show or other temporary location.
For Vodafone’s 5G broadband, you’ll obviously need to be in one of the Vodafone 5G areas mentioned above (although the router will still use 4G if you can’t get 5G at any point). You can connect up to 64 devices to the Gigacube.
Contracts are available in two versions - 18 months or a rolling 30 day contract.
The 18 month tariffs are available in both business and consumer versions. There’s an introductory offer to get unlimited data for £50 a month with £50 up front (£41.67 ex-VAT for business). 200GB per month costs £40 (£33.33 ex-VAT for business), while 100GB a month costs £30 (£25 ex-VAT for business).
If you want a rolling 30 day tariff, you’ll need to pay £325 up front for the router, but you can then pay the same monthly amounts. Therefore, it’s currently better to take out the 18 month contract as you get the router for £50.
Vodafone 5G business
Vodafone believes that 5G will be transformational for businesses, bringing office Wi-Fi speeds to the outside and monitoring IoT (Internet of Things) devices in remote locations. Real-time capabilities will be vastly increased thanks to the reduction of latency, making things like augmented reality (AR) apps more realistic for the workplace.
Crucially, 5G will enable connectivity in crowded areas, and that will also bring new possibilities for businesses who host a lot of people, such as concert venues, stadia and shopping centres.
Vodafone has 5G demonstration areas at its Digital Innovation Hub in MediaCity, Manchester as well as in the Customer Experience Centre at its Newbury HQ.