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Vodafone offers '5G Ultra' to users of very specific phones in very specific locations

'It will likely be unnoticeable for many consumers' says analyst

Vodafone is claiming to be the first UK telco to provide 5G Standalone services to customers, but only in select locations and on certain devices. Experts question whether consumers will really notice any difference.

The telco, which plans to merge with CK Hutchinson's Three in the UK, said that its 5G Standalone service will be available initially in several locations across the country, chiefly large cities, but only on Samsung Galaxy S21 and S22 smartphones for now.

Dubbed 5G Ultra, the service is claimed by Vodafone to offer greater 5G coverage, improved phone battery life, more reliable connections in busy locations, and will cure world hunger (we made that last one up).

These benefits are supposedly a result of the network being upgraded to 5G Standalone in the locations listed, which means that the network core infrastructure has been refreshed with modern technology rather than simply bolting a 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) – the transmitter/receiver equipment – onto the existing infrastructure built for 4G networks, as the UK's 5G support has been to date.

Vodafone stated that the service is available at launch in "several locations" across the UK, including London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Cardiff, as well as the Wimbledon area to provide coverage for the tennis.

The company said that customers with a compatible handset who signed a monthly contract after February 24 will have 5G Ultra added to their plan automatically at no extra cost, as will new customers and those upgrading. The 5G Ultra service will also be available for small business users.

It isn't clear why Vodafone is only supporting Samsung Galaxy S21 and S22 phones at launch. The company claimed more devices will be added in July, and we asked it for a list of devices it will support.

The company claims that users will see have average speeds of 150-200Mbps and perhaps up to 1Gbps with 5G Ultra, saying it is approximately 10 times faster than 4G. It is also claiming that 5G Ultra will handle peaks in demand better so that users can be assured of getting a service in busy locations such as stadiums and at festivals.

However, telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore at PP Foresight told us that many users will likely not notice much difference for now.

"While the lure of faster speeds and lower latency sounds appealing it will likely be unnoticeable for many consumers," he said, although he added that this announcement is "a key and pivotal role in the next wave of 5G."

Features such as lower latency will also likely have more appeal for business users, Pescatore said.

"Ultimately a reliable and robust connection is still highly sought after among users. It will add up to new use cases for businesses that will see plentiful benefits thanks to network slicing and much more."

Vodafone announced its first trials of 5G standalone networks back in 2021, stating that these were taking place in London, Manchester, and Cardiff.

The Register also reported previously that Vodafone was using the network upgrade as an opportunity to rip and replace Huawei kit from its network, in line with the UK government's instructions not to procure equipment from the vendor, and to remove any already installed by the end of 2027.

Vodafone was understood to be in a relatively good position as far as this went as it had not used Huawei gear in its core network in the UK, although one third of the RAN was understood to be built using Huawei technology.

The company also announced this month that it proposes to merge its British business with rival mobile network Three. The move is expected to create a third big telecoms player in the UK market to compete against BT and Virgin Media O2, but may face a challenge from the country's competition watchdog over concerns that deal might lead to higher prices. ®

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