EE announces 5G launch

Nokia wins key core function as EE strips Huawei from upgraded EPC. But Huawei wins further in the RAN as EE targets Huawei Lampsite for indoor 5G service.

EE has announced it will launch 5G as a commercially available service on 31 May, offering service within six cities at launch and a further clutch through the year.

The company is upgrading existing 4G sites to 5G at the rate of 100 month. It will have 1,500 5G sites by the end of the year, which it said is about 8% of its masts. Importantly, those 8% of masts actually carry about 25% of its traffic. Using 5G to improve the overall experience at busy sites is one reason why CEO Marc Allera said increased reliability, not just speed, would be a key benefit of early 5G deployments.

“Speed is the headline but it’s not the whole story,” he said. A chart on expected speeds suggested that EE is predicting average speeds of around 200Mbps per second for users within 5G range at launch, but it is notably not making any speed promises as such.

EE scaling expectations: “We expect on average 5G users to see about an 150Mbps uplift,” a spokesperson said later.

A spokesperson said that on average, in busy sites where lots of users are also attached to the underlying 4G layer, EE thinks customers will get about 150Mbps uplift once they are sharing a site with other 5G users. (A single 5G device attached to the St Paul’s site in London was achieving around 400-500Mbps, even with a hefty 2,000 4G users attached to the site.)

Outdoor sites are upgraded with either 8T8R antenna units that integrate 4G and 5G antennas, or 5G antennas with 64T64R that sit alongside LTE antennas. See this post for more on this.

In the foreground the dual build of the LTE and the squarer 3.5 GHz panels. If you look very closely there’s actually another 5G site in the rooftop in the distance, middle of picture.

“The hard work is that it’s a new antenna. Adding on the 45-50kg antenna requires a lot of strengthening work, a lot of concrete and a lot of steel,” an EE spokesperson said.

For backhaul, every new 5G site gets the Openreach 10Gbps product.

Huawei LampSite for 5G indoors

Allera said that the upgrade would begin outdoors, reaching 2,000 sites in 2020, but added that the operator will be trialling indoor solutions later in the year. TMN understands that as part of that, EE will be trialling Huawei’s LampSite 5G solution for large sized indoor venues. It has already trialled the solution at Wembley stadium. It’s currently undergoing testing and EE will try to get it to market this year.

Nokia wins first EE core function replacement as Huawei gets phased out

In the core EE will move to a full 5G core by 2022. As already made public, this 5G core network will not be provided by Huawei due to security and governmental concerns. Huawei provides EE’s existing 4G core (EPC), and EE will use an upgraded version of its EPC to handle its NSA 5G connections.

TMN understands that the company has already replaced Huawei for one key function within the upgraded 4G core. It has migrated the HSS function away from Huawei to Nokia. It therefore seems likely that Nokia will be a key beneficiary in EE’s enhanced EPC and 5G core migration. The HSS (Home Subscriber Server) is a database that contains subscriber information, supporting functions in mobility management, call and session setup, user authentication and access authorisation.

Potential to underwhelm?

Although we are used to plenty of hype around the transformative power and potential of 5G, EE was careful to communicate that much of the more “out there” stuff in fact remains out there. We will not be seeing Industry 4.0, massive automation, ultra reliable critical comms and the like until the URLLC features and perhaps network slicing capabilities are in place. EE placed that within a 2023 and onwards time frame. It wants to be clear about its current offer, and what consumers and businesses can expect.

As well as introducing the 5G core for SA mode, Phase two introduces new spectrum at sub 6 GHz and sub 1GHz bands, as well as perhaps some mmWave spectrum. Allera also said that the company wants to converged its access offers across fixed, mobile and WiFi. “Our ambition is to bring all these together to connect our customers 100% of the time.”

Three phases of 5G. CEO Allera said that using all of 4G, 5G and WiFi in a converged manner is a goal. Note the Phase 3 goals includes much of the “Industry 4.0, critical comms” type stuff.