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Get up to speed – everything you need to know about 5G

Ready to say hello to faster speeds and goodbye to lagging? The next-generation network is on its way. Find out everything you need to know about 5G, including how it’s different, when you can get it and how it works abroad.

In this guide we’ll also debunk myths around the dangers of 5G, discuss what else it can be used for and explore how it could impact our lives in the future.

Ready to say hello to faster speeds and goodbye to lagging? The next-generation network is on its way. Find out everything you need to know about 5G, including how it’s different, when you can get it and how it works abroad.

In this guide we’ll also debunk myths around the dangers of 5G, discuss what else it can be used for and explore how it could impact our lives in the future.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Consumer expert on utilities and money
15 min read
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What is 5G?

5G is the newest and fastest generation of mobile networking.

At the moment you probably use either 4G, 3G or Edge to make calls, send texts and browse the internet when you’re on the move or not on WiFi, but 5G is the next big thing.

But lucky early adopters are already enjoying 5G around the UK – getting blistering speeds, seamless performance and game-changing dependability in even the busiest of places.

How does 5G differ from 3G and 4G?

Faster speeds
It can handle loads more data at a much faster speed. You'll be able to download movies in seconds and play multiplayer games on the go.

Greater network capacity
5G allows for thousands of devices in a small area to be connected at the same time. This means that whether you're at a busy train station, a festival or a football match, you'll get reliable and seamless data.

No lagging
It’s more responsive than any previous generation of mobile network, so you can watch, stream, play and call without interruption.


Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Feature 3G 4G 5G
Average download speed
(How quickly data can be downloaded, on average)
7.9 Mbps 35.9 Mbps 130-240 Mbps
Theoretical download speed
(How quickly data could be downloaded, in theory)
42 Mbps 300 Mbps 10-50 Gbps
(The time it takes for data or a request to go from the source to the destination. The higher the number, the longer the delay)
21ms (actual)/1ms (theoretical)
Read more

How much faster is 5G?

It's rapid - some estimates show that download speeds could be up to 1,000 times faster than 4G. We're talking almost instant HD movie downloads, lightning quick and seamless web browsing, FaceTiming, gaming - you name it. All while you're on the move.

Just like 4G, 5G speeds can vary depending on factors such as how far away you are from a mast and how many people around you are using 5G. 

Compare 5G download speeds against 4G and 3G

To see how much faster 5G really is, we chose 20 of the top-rated TV shows and movies of all time on IMDB and tested how quickly you can download your favourite films and shows on the move – across 3G, 4G and 5G network speeds.

We then looked at the most popular app games, Spotify playlists, movies and TV shows of 2020 to give you a clear overview of how much time your 5G device could save you.

Select a media type and then start the timer to see how much time you could save downloading your favourite movies, TV shows, app games and playlists on 5G.

See the methodology section for further details on how we calculated the download speeds.

Will I be able to get 5G anywhere in the UK?

Not yet. 5G has launched in many places around the UK, but coverage is currently limited to select towns and cities.

5G is already available around 100 major towns and cities via at least one mobile operator, and more towns and cities are set to get 5G in the coming months.

For now, 5G is unavailable in many towns and rural areas, and even in areas with coverage, reception can still be patchy. It will be a while before the whole of the UK can access 5G. Generally speaking, the larger the place the more likely you are to get 5G if you haven’t got it yet.

5G is currently offered by eight networks: EE, O2, Three, Vodafone, BT Mobile, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Voxi. EE were the leaders of the pack, launching 5G in the UK back in May 2019.

The first cities to be connected with 5G back in May 2019 were London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Belfast and Cardiff.

Since then, more and more cities have been connected and the best-connected cities in the UK, based on coverage from all eight networks, are Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Some mobile networks have also brought 5G to some of the UK’s busiest places, such as major train stations and tourist hotspots. The good news is that 5G doesn't slow down even if there are loads of people using the same app in the same place, thanks to its improved capacity.

5G when you go abroad

You can now roam on 5G on some networks, in the same way that you can get 4G or 3G data when you go abroad. Other countries are also upgrading their infrastructure to support 5G, which means you can get high-speed internet in many locations. Some networks may cap the amount of data you can use when you’re away.

Not all networks offer this yet though. At the time of writing, only Vodafone and VOXI offer 5G roaming (VOXI is owned by Vodafone which explains why a small network is ahead of other major providers).

It’s likely that other networks will start offering 5G roaming with time, though when are where isn’t yet clear.

As of January 2020, 5G networks had been deployed in 378 cities across 34 countries. So where can you find the best 5G coverage?

The best countries for 5G, based on the number of cities with 5G availability, are South Korea, China, the USA, the UK and Saudi Arabia. See a list of the leading countries that offer 5G.

Who would benefit most from 5G?

Due to its rapid speeds, 5G offers huge benefits for individuals who spend lots of time streaming videos, playing online games and sending large files – in other words individuals who use a lot of mobile data in their day-to-day lives.

Below we’ve explored how other factors, such as the size of your mobile data package and how much mobile data you use, could make 5G beneficial for you.

The UK’s mobile data usage

We conducted a survey to learn more about the nation’s mobile data usage and find out who would benefit the most from 5G in the UK. We found that 30% of us have gone over our mobile data allowance in the last year, despite 20% of us having over 30GB of data allowance per month. But perhaps it’s not surprising when you hear that 53% of the UK never consciously take a break from their phone.

The UK's mobile data usage


53% of the UK never have a break from their phones


30% of the UK have gone over their mobile data package in the last year


Over 20% of the UK have data packages over 30GB


30% of the UK only download up to 10 apps on their phones

Based on results from a UK nationally representative survey during July 2020

The statistics vary by age group – a staggering 40% of people aged 25-34 have gone over their mobile data allowance in the last year, followed by 38% of people aged 16-24.

When it comes to satisfaction of mobile network speed, the findings show that those aged 16-24 are least satisfied with the speed in their local area. Those aged 45-54 are the most satisfied, which highlights that young people in particular could benefit from 5G.

The UK’s biggest mobile data users

So which cities would benefit the most from 5G? Turning to mobile data use across different UK cities, we looked at the following factors from the survey to create a definitive ranking of the UK’s biggest mobile data users:

  • Mobile contracts with unlimited data
  • People who have gone over their data allowance
  • Phones with more than 50 apps
  • People who never consciously take a break from their phone

Cardiff was revealed as the city that’s home to the biggest mobile data users, followed by Glasgow, Leeds, Brighton and Newcastle.

Over 20% of people from Cardiff and 23% of Glaswegians have an unlimited data package, while 83% of people in Brighton have gone over their data package at least once in the last year.

People in Birmingham are the most guilty of being glued to their phones, with over 35% revealing that they never take a break from their mobile.

Residents of Manchester are the most unhappy with their mobile network speeds, with 12% stating that they are not completely satisfied with the speeds in their local area.

The UK's biggest mobile data users

1. Cardiff
2. Glasgow
3. Leeds
4. Brighton
5. Newcastle

1. Cardiff

20% have an unlimited mobile data package

2. Glasgow

23% have an unlimited mobile data package

3. Leeds

12% have over 50+ apps on their phones

4. Brighton

83% have gone over their mobile data package in the last year

5. Newcastle

34% never have breaks from their phones

Based on results from a UK nationally representative survey during July 2020

Apps the UK can't live without


21% of Gen Z can't live without entertainment apps


25% of Glaswegians can't live without social apps

Based on results from a UK nationally representative survey during July 2020

Apps the UK can’t live without

Our mobile apps are the gateway to online shopping, social networking and managing our finances. But these apps, along with health and fitness apps, games, emails and even Google rely on mobile data to function while we’re on the move.

So we wanted to find out which mobile apps the UK couldn’t live without. The survey revealed that WhatsApp is the app we rely on the most (53% of the UK couldn’t live without WhatsApp), followed by Facebook (42%), PayPal (39%), YouTube (38%) and Amazon (36%).

If you use lots of data, use this handy guide to find out how a 5G plan would benefit you.

When can I get 5G on my phone?

It depends on your mobile network. 5G launched in the UK in May 2019, and the four major mobile networks (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) have all now launched 5G and have plans to roll out further.

You’ll need a 5G-ready phone to access the faster speeds offered by 5G, so get that sorted and check where your network provider is currently offering 5G:

  • EE
    EE was the first mobile network to launch 5G in the UK,
    rolling out in May 2019 in six cities: Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester. As of June 2020, 80 towns and cities have 5G coverage with EE.
  • Vodafone
    Vodafone launched 5G in July 2019
    in seven cities: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester. Its 5G service is now live in 44 locations in the UK.
  • Three
    Three switched on its 5G service in August 2019
    , but only as a broadband product in London to start with. It has now expanded to cover 68 towns and cities and claims to be building the UK’s fastest 5G network.
  • O2
    O2 launched 5G in October 2019
    in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough and Leeds. It has now expanded its 5G offering to cover 60 towns and cities.
  • VOXI
    VOXI launched 5G in October 2019
    in 44 towns and cities. As it is run by Vodafone, it has the same 5G coverage as Vodafone

Do I need anything other than a 5G phone to get 5G?

As well as a 5G phone, you’ll also need a 5G-ready data plan from your chosen provider. All SIM cards are 5G-ready, which means you won’t need a special SIM.

Of course, it won't just be your phone you can connect – all sorts of smart tech devices for the home and workplace are set to be transformed by the power of 5G.

When will MVNOs launch 5G?

Some Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) that use one of the core networks to provide their own service have also launched 5G. So far BT, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and VOXI have launched a 5G service, with other MVNOs set to follow.

How much does 5G cost?

Like any new technology, you may have to pay more for both your 5G phone and for your plan.

Costs will depend on whether you choose a phone or a SIM-only deal, which model you want, how much data you want, how long your contract runs for and which provider you choose or is operating in your area.

Compare mobile phone deals

Is 5G worth it at this point?

Unless you are really keen to be the first to try it and you live in an area where 5G is already available, it could be worth holding out. The choice of phones and networks is currently fairly limited, as is the coverage, so waiting a while will allow time for improvements as well as for prices to drop.

5G myths debunked – how safe is 5G?

We surveyed the nation to understand which 5G facts and myths the British population believe are true and false.

The statement What the public think The verdict The truth
5G is connected to the spread of the coronavirus 40% of Gen Z can't be sure that 5G isn't connected to the spread of Coronavirus.
23% of the general population stated that they didn't know if this was a true or false statement.
FALSE -> There is no evidence that 5G is connected to COVID-19, nor harmful to people’s health.
Viruses can’t travel on radio waves or mobile networks, and coronavirus is also spreading in many countries that don’t have 5G mobile networks.
5G will enable remote surgery, so a surgeon may not need to be in the same room as the patient Just 14% of the population know that 5G will enable remote surgery.
But over 25% of residents in Greater London already believe this to be true.
TRUE -> Thanks to the extremely low latency of 5G, surgeons will indeed be able to carry out remote surgery.
Trees are being cut down due to 5G When asked if they believed that trees are being cut down due to 5G, just 25% of people aged 45-54 answered this as false.
22% of the population believe this statement to be true.

While trees can interfere with mobile signal, the positioning of current trees is considered when planning telephone installations.

There is no evidence to suggest that trees are being cut down to improve 5G connectivity.

Self-driving cars will use 5G to talk to other cars, sensors and streetlamps. Only 29% of Brits know that self-driving cars will use 5G to talk to other cars, sensors and streetlamps.
But over 55% said they did not know. Great London and Manchester are the most clued up.

The speed and connectivity of 5G will indeed allow cars to “talk” to each other, helping them to avoid accidents.

This same connectivity could also allow cars to “talk” to streetlamps, allowing them to be switched off if there are no cars on a specific road, for example.

What else can 5G be used for?

The possibilities really do seem endless – in fact, we probably don't yet know the full range of benefits, products and spin-off industries 5G will bring us.

We can make some predictions, though. The internet of things (like smart fridges, sat nav and home lighting systems) rely on stable connections and fast connectivity, so expect to find yourself increasingly drawn to this burgeoning technology.

5G might even replace home WiFi for reliability and speed, or at least be a fantastic back up system for your home WiFi. (WiFi is likely to remain a cheaper option for a while to come though).

But if you're unhappy with the reliability of your current broadband supplier, it's worth comparing suppliers.

Compare broadband

5G enthusiasts and network operators who have already started testing 5G abroad, and in the UK, consider it a revolution, with huge knock-on benefits to wider society. 

5G is already being used and tested across a number of sectors. In the medical sector it has already helped to keep patients connected with their families via virtual reality, as well as enabling biomonitors to detect whether patients are dehydrated. In the future it could bring further major changes to healthcare, such as by enabling remote medical procedures.

In the farming sector, autonomous farming machinery is being used to apply fertilisers and pesticides where they’re needed, saving resources and boosting efficiency.

The instant connectivity of 5G could be used to improve public services like parking, traffic management and street lighting, self-driving cars and smart bins. In the entertainment space, holographic video and augmented reality are some of the other ways that 5G could be used in the future.

How 5G will impact our lives in the future

With its list of endless possibilities, 5G will transform our lives beyond our mobile phones. We spoke to a number of credible voices across the technology, careers and manufacturing industries to learn how 5G will impact their industries in the future. Read up on their 5G predictions below.

Ted Meulenkamp

Global Talent Attraction Lead at Mondelēz International

“While COVID-19 has already proven to be an accelerator enabling people to work from home, we believe that 5G will further push that trend, due to its superiority to broadband.
Not only this, but through the uptake in working from home, 5G will also give companies a unique opportunity to hire a more diverse workforce.
We’ll be able to reach people and demographics that before were perhaps not accessible or reachable, such as disabled people that have trouble commuting to work, people that live in areas that are not in the main “office park” neighbourhoods, those that don’t have the financial means to get to your office if there is no public transportation, and parents and carers that want to take care of new-borns.
People will be able to choose their lifestyle and adapt their job to it instead of the other way around. I believe this to be a very positive development for both companies and employees.”

James Gray

Managing Director at Graystone Strategy

“5G, edge computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will mean that a real time quality control (QC) process can occur, by using a high-quality camera linked to the AI via 5G to check each component that comes off the production line. As a result, the line can be paused immediately if a problem is spotted, whereas currently QC identifies problems after a batch is deemed faulty, at great cost and waste.

Ericsson recently wrote a paper about the impact of improved efficiency in the production of bladed discs (BLISKS) used in jet engines. These are engineered to a very high tolerance level and as a result there is a high QC failure rate.

Putting in a 5G monitored solution could reduce that failure rate from 25% requiring re-work to 15%. It’s estimated this would save about $360m annually. And if there is just a 2% efficiency improvement in the jet engines it could reduce CO2 globally by 16m metric tons.”

Alex Hamilton

Innovation Director at Isobar

"We hear a lot about emerging technology, including voice, mixed reality (the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time), and blockchain (a simple yet ingenious way of passing information from A to B in a fully automated and safe manner), but brands are hesitant to adopt partly due to a lack of connectivity on mobile.

5G is going to change this by providing a platform for brands to build new experiences, using these technologies. The increase in bandwidth will undoubtably widen the creative scope to tell brand stories in innovative ways.”

Methodology and References

Mobile Data Packages and 5G Myths: Censuswide survey of 2,000 adults in July 2020

Video and Download Speeds: We used the top-rated films/TV shows of all time and of 2020 and found which ones are available on the major streaming sites (Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and NowTV).

Then we sourced the most-played games on Apple Appstore and GooglePlay, and the most popular Spotify playlists. We took the HD download file size of each and used and to calculate the download speeds for each file against the UK’s average network speeds on 3G, 4G, 5G.,,,,

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Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

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