5G technology: how it works
4G vs 5G: how they compare
5G use cases: examples of 5G
5G Dangers: the fact and fiction
5G Internet: will it replace fibre
5G security: the full picture
5G speed: guide and tools
5G deals: get the best offers
5G phones: discover the best
5G stocks: investment tips
5G networks are live in many countries including the US and UK. On both sides of the pond, all four major networks have 5G services live and, in many cases, they're covering quite a large area.
Different networks have quite different attitudes about how they've rolled out 5G, too and will continue to do so in the future. While US networks are using the high-frequency mmWave (milimeter wave) networks already,
UK networks haven't yet made the move. mmWave is key to 5G rollout in major cities where higher speeds and capacities are required. All networks are using so-called 'sub-6' wavebands to maximise coverage, but this doesn't provide 5G speeds that are as good as mmWave.
However, coverage for all 5G networks remains patchy, only covering towns and cities at the moment; even close neighbourhoods can have vastly different network coverage.
All the UK networks have opted for the drip-drip approach of covering main areas of major cities first, then switching on 5G as 'bolt-ons' to these services, often covering suburbs of the larger cities next. As we mentioned, this is all using mid-band 5G.
By contrast, T-Mobile in the US has joined AT&T in attempting to cover as much of the US as possible, as quickly as possible. It's doing this by using low-band spectrum that isn't much quicker than 4G, plus AT&T also rolled out 5GE, which is basically a marketing play because it's actually not 5G - it's 4G LTE Advanced.
Though these moves, AT&T intended to cover 5,000 locations as soon as possible, covering up to 200 million people. AT&T is simply referring to its standard network as "5G" rather than 5G+, which is the name it's reserving for it mmWave (high-band) technology.
We've listed all of the networks below as well as basic details about their rollout - check out our individual network features for more on the coverage, phone offering and future plans for each carrier.
However, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it's worth remembering that many of the rollout dates will slip. However, we've used the figures we have to hand- although you should probably take these with a pinch of salt. It helps that most of the networks have been pretty vague on future plans, anyway.
What about 5G phones?
With no 5G iPhone as yet (due in September 2020) and the need for cooling for the 5G modem, most 5G phones in 2019 had two things in common; they were big and also expensive. They were also very niche, with 5G handsets generally being special editions of other already-available phones.
However, things are changing. Each flagship phone we've seen launched in 2020 is either 5G or has a 5G variant. Chief amongst these is the new Samsung S20 series - although 4G versions of two of the three handsets are available in some territories, one is 5G exclusively (the S20 Ultra). For the first time, it felt like a phone launch was more centred around 5G than 4G.
And there are numerous other 5G phones launching as well, such as the Oppo Find X 2, Huawei P40 series and Sony Xperia 1 mark II.
We'll increasingly see 2019 5G phones discounted heavily as the next few months roll on.
Let's run through each of the key US and UK networks one by one and check out where they are in terms of their 5G availability.
US 5G networks
AT&T's 5G network rollout is well underway after a slow start. AT&T has been putting its efforts into "5GE" - essentially some clever branding for 4G LTE Advanced technologies. 5GE is not 5G.
5GE is not great because it's confusing for consumers and it's wholly possible that the strategy may backfire long-term. Why would customers upgrade when their phone already says 5G in the top corner?
The network has a handful of cities covered by mmWave deployments - the best 5G tech in terms of overall speed - and says it will expand to 30 US cities by the end of the year. It is calling this network 5G+.
And then AT&T has been rolling out what it calls, simply, '5G'. This is a low-band network that doesn't really offer a great deal more than 4G networks, but has the advantage of widespread coverage - AT&T is working toward offering “nationwide coverage” in the coming months but has covered around 200 million people already.
Sprint isn't using mmWave for faster speeds in urban areas, the only US network to make that choice. Its focus on mid-band coverage does mean wider coverage and speeds shown so far are still decent.
However, Sprint is about to merge with T-Mobile, so the name won't be around for too much longer. The network's mid-band 5G network will become part of "the new T-Mobile" as it's currently being referred to, but the combined network will just use the T-Mobile brand and be known as "the new T-Mobile" colloquially.
T-Mobile is rolling out 5G in selected US cities - New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Cleveland and Atlanta. Like AT&T, it's offering the Samsung Galaxy S20 series and S10 5G but also has the new OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren in addition to Samsung's Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.
Sprint's merger with T-Mobile has now been greenlit and the combined company will be forced to sell off some spectrum to Dish to ensure there is still a fourth competitor in the market.
Verizon was the first US network to launch 5G and its mmWave-based network is now well underway, albeit with very limited coverage in each city where it has rolled out. The company is targeting 50 percent US coverage later this year.
The network is offering various 5G handsets on unlimited 5G tariffs which normally cost an extra $10 a month but are premium-free for a limited time. The network is also offering a 5G home broadband service, too, although this remains in limited areas at present.
UK 5G networks
Probably the furthest ahead of the UK networks, EE has the widest 5G phone offering in the UK. It has launched 5G in 71 cities at the moment, but 5G will be coming to many more as 2020 goes on.
Both EE's business and consumer 5G plans are available with unlimited data and anytime upgrade. All EE's 5G phones are available on EE 5G Smart Plan with unlimited minutes and texts, too.
BT Mobile runs as an MVNO on EE's network (BT now owns EE) and has also now launched 5G services in the same locations as EE.
O2's 5G network has 5G services in around 20 locations and is aiming for around 50 towns and cities by the summer.
O2 has a very similar selection of handsets to Vodafone's 5G network. Indeed, it has more than that in common with Vodafone - O2 shares various elements of network infrastructure with it.
O2 is offering several unlimited 5G tariffs just like the other UK networks.
Three UK has finally launched 5G services with a whopping 66 locations now having a 5G service. However, the locations are extremely limited - sometimes just covering a single postcode. While the coverage in each area isn't great, the number of locations is really very welcome indeed.
Three is offering 5G broadband in limited areas of London at the moment but isn't going to roll that out outside of the capital until later in the year.
Vodafone might not have been first to launch 5G in the UK, but it set the cat amongst the pigeons when it revealed unlimited 5G tariffs.
While Three has offered unlimited tariffs for a long time, it was something of a departure for one of the big networks - and EE and O2 have now had to follow suit.
Vodafone clearly wants to position itself as the challenger network to EE (rather than second-placed network O2) and is also offering a decent selection of 5G phones in addition to a combined home broadband and 5G mobile offering called Vodafone Together.