Thursday 22 August 2019

Vodafone switches on 5G mobile in Ireland: cities first, rural later

Pic: Anne O’Leary, CEO, Vodafone Ireland and Barry O’Reilly, director of UCC Assert
Pic: Anne O’Leary, CEO, Vodafone Ireland and Barry O’Reilly, director of UCC Assert
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Vodafone Ireland has launched its 5G mobile network, with two 5G-compatible smartphones and speeds of up to 900 megabits per second.

It becomes the first Irish network operator to launch 5G, with Eir and Three expected to follow by the end of the year.

The 5G coverage will be available in parts of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Vodafone says that “additional locations” in city and urban areas will be covered later this year, with a more general rollout to follow over the next two years.

The main difference between 5G and 4G is speed, with 5G coverage able to download large files almost instantly or stream high resolution video without any delays or buffering.

5G speeds can reach up to 1,000Mbs, with Vodafone showing speeds of over 700Mbs at its launch in Cork. However, Vodafone customers can expect to see speeds in excess of 100Mbs at first.

Vodafone is launching with Huawei’s Mate 20X 5G and Samsung’s S10 5G. A number of other 5G-compatible handsets are expected on the Irish market soon. Existing 4G phones will not be able to pick up a 5G signal.

Vodafone Ireland chief executive Anne O’Leary has said that 5G is not a substitute for fibre broadband in rural areas.

And in cities, while 5G will match many home broadband speeds, 5G phone plans will have much lower monthly data allowances.

Other than information and entertainment, 5G is seen as being important for future industry and commercial needs, such as self-driving cars and advanced telemedicine.

In this vein, Vodafone has announced a partnership with University College Cork’s Assert Centre for a 5G training facility focused on medical robotics and telecoms-medicine. Vodafone claims this is the first of its kind in the world.

Vodafone’s 5G network is based mostly on Ericsson equipment.

AN IDIOT’S GUIDE TO 5G IN IRELAND: WHAT, WHERE, HOW MUCH

Q: Can my existing phone get 5G?

A: No. A new phone is required. There are only a handful on the market at present.

Q: Will 5G cost me more?

A: Vodafone isn’t charging any more for 5G but is currently reserving it for its middle-tier and premium plans, charging a minimum of €35 per month  for a sim-only 5G plan (discounted to €25 for the first 6 months). For business plans, they get much pricier. (More details are available at https://n.vodafone.ie/network/5g.html.) But as soon as several operators are up and running, competition should knock out any hefty premium sought by operators. This is especially so in the absence of an overwhelming reason to have a 5G connection over a 4G one. In time, 5G will just become the standard across every operator’s plan, including basic prepaid options.

Q: What 5G phones are there here?

A: Huawei’s Mate 20X and Samsung’s S10 5G. Motorola also has a couple of 5G-compatible phones, as do LG and HTC.

Q: What about the iPhone?

A: The iPhone is not expected to be 5G-compatible for at least another year. The new iPhone 11, to be announced in a few weeks, has reportedly not included a 5G radio inside.

Q: If the iPhone doesn’t have it, will that hold 5G back?

A: In some countries it will. But in continental Europe and most of Asia, the iPhone is in a small minority.

Q: Will I need a new SIM card?

A: No. You do need to call up the operator and tell them you want to be included in the 5G network. If you’re on one of the plans that supports it and have a 5G phone, they basically flick a switch and your existing sim is 5G capable.

Q: Will there be any problem handing over between 4G and 5G on my phone?

A: Vodafone says no. It will just switch in between 5G and 4G in the same way that it currently does between 4G and 3G.

Q: Will I miss out if I don’t have 5G?

A: Not right away. At the moment, you’ll only really get coverage in a few city spots around the country. Over time, though, it will become the norm. Those with 5G coverage will gradually be able to use their phones, tablets and laptops at speeds that will make current 4G connections seem slow.

Q: I don’t live in Dublin or another city. When will I see 5G in many areas?

A: Possibly not for a year or more. The operators are starting their rollout in cities and urban areas. They don’t have any obligation to roll it out beyond cities.

Q: Is there not a licence requirement to cover the country with 5G?

A: No. For previous mobile network rollouts, there was a licence requirement to cover between 70pc and 90pc of the country’s population. In reality, that just meant the cities and urban areas, plus the larger towns. Much of the country is still without 4G coverage. But there’s no specific 5G rollout coverage requirement yet.

Q: 5G sounds great, but my area doesn’t even have 4G. Does this mean the operators are going to stop rolling out 4G?

A: No. When 4G was launched, operators were still rolling out 3G for at least another two years, covering areas they hadn’t gotten around to. If your area doesn’t have 4G at present, it may still get it.

Q: Could 5G solve my broadband problem?

A: A dedicated 5G home broadband service will undoubtedly be launched by some operators in time. However, the network won’t roll out to most of the country for some time. As for using your 5G smartphone as a ‘hotspot’, the monthly data caps will be too small to use it as a home broadband solution for normal activities, such as watching Netflix.

Q: I read that there are problems with 5G compatibility in the US. Will we have the same problems here?

A: Largely, no. In the US, operators are using a combination of different 5G frequencies, including ‘millimetre wave’. This is faster but travels over much shorter distances. But it’s led to a problem — some 5G-compatible phones in the US will only work on one network but not another because of this difference. In Europe, operators are not deploying millimetre wave, which means that almost any 5G phone your buy here will work on almost every 5G network. Beware, though, of importing 5G phones from abroad for this reason.

Q: Is 5G safe? I read somewhere that it might be more dangerous than 4G.

A: Every major state regulator says that 5G does not contain any elevated radiation threat to humans. As the US Federal Communications Commission put it last week, there is little difference between it and 4G when it comes to users’ health and safety. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also chimed in to say that “no adverse health effects” have been established by using mobile phones.

However, there have been reservations. A Belgian regional environment minister, Celine Fremault, has put the 5G rollout in Brussels on hold, citing uncertainty over health effects. A group of 180 scientists and doctors have written to the EU to ask for the postponement of a 5G rollout to give more time for assessing the potential health downsides.

Both of these events have been pounced upon by anti-5G campaigners, who argue that antennae are fundamentally unhealthy for human beings.

Another point that the anti-5G campaigners make is that there have been very few long term studies on the effects of phone radiation on humans.

And both the WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have pointed out that radio frequency radiation is “possibly carcinogenic”, although not as risky as alcohol or processed meat.

In Ireland, there is some anti-5G sentiment that is closely associated with general anti-mast activity. In Sligo, a councillor (Joe Queenan, Independent) is fighting to stop the erection of a 5G-compatible mast. A handful of other councils have made similar noises.

One issue that may concentrate these concerns is the proliferation of masts and antennae. For the most part, urban 5G networks will need more sites. So if there is any risk from antennae at present, this will probably be magnified by such an expansion.

However, those arguing that 5G is not a health threat point out that the same fears currently being expressed over 5G were expounded when 3G and 4G were rolled out, with no adverse health consequences yet proven. A rule in Kerry that phone masts had to be at least a mile away from schools for fear of cancerous radiation was recently scrapped as being unnecessary.

Q: What about spying? Isn’t there some fear that 5G means more security threats?

A: That is wrapped up in the issue over Huawei and US-led accusations that its 5G networking equipment may be susceptible to a so-called security ‘backdoor’ that’s accessible to Chinese authorities. The company has rigorously denied this and EU countries have most dismissed the theory having put Huawei’s networking equipment through their own security tests.

Q: I’ve seen ads for 5G broadband already in parts of the country. What’s that about?

A: The term ‘5G’ can also loosely be applied to a fixed wireless form of broadband using an antenna on your roof or a box on the side of your house that connects to a local mast or community antenna. Earlier this year, Imagine launched such a service in non-urban parts of the country. It’s not the same as a mobile 5G network and won’t work as a 5G cellular service on your smartphone.

Online Editors

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