Vodafone has launched its 5G network in the UK, turning on the next generation of cellular technology in seven cities across the country in addition to announcing unlimited data plans.

The Vodafone 5G launch gives customers with 5G-enabled phones in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London access to significantly faster network speeds.

The town of Newbury – the home of Vodafone UK’s technology headquarters – also saw 5G switched on today.

Additionally, 5G will launch in the following towns and cities later this year: Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.

Vodafone will also roll out 5G roaming in Germany, Spain and Italy over the summer.

And as part of its goal to provide 5G coverage to rural areas, Vodafone also switched on 5G on the Isles of Scilly today.

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By GlobalData

Across Europe, Vodafone also launched 5G in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Malaga, Zaragoza, Bilbao, Vitoria, San Sebastian, La Coruna, Vigo, Gijon, Pamplona, Logrono, Santander, Milan, Roma, Naples, Turin, and Bologna.

In total, Vodafone launched 5G in 27 cities across Europe.

Why 5G?

According to Vodafone, the next-gen tech promises speeds 10 times faster than that of 4G, offering peak speeds of 1Gbps (gigabytes per second). The average speed will be 150-200mbps, compared to 23-35Mbps for 4G.

This means that high definition films can be downloaded a few minutes, compared to over 15 minutes via 4G. Its faster speed is also expected to transform gaming, making it possible to stream high-definition games without lag.

5G technology is also expected to facilitate a range of technologies that require connections with low latency (less delay): from autonomous vehicles to industrial robots to networks of internet of things (IoT) devices.

Vodafone unlimited data plans

In addition to the 5G launch, Vodafone announced a new set of data plans. The phrase “rip up the rulebook” was repeated several times at the 5G launch, which took place at the Sky Garden in London. Vodafone appears to have done so by radically changing the structure of the new data tariffs, offering speed-tiered unlimited data tariffs – a first for the UK.

Instead of pricing tariffs by the amount of data available, Vodafone will provide unlimited data but with varying maximum data speeds.

Vodafone announced three SIM-only plans at the launch:

  • Vodafone Unlimited Lite: £23 per month for unlimited data at speeds of up to 2 Mbps
  • Vodafone Unlimited: £26 per month for unlimited data at speeds of up to 10Mbps
  • Vodafone Max: £30 per month for unlimited data at the fastest speed available in that area

Given that the Lite and Unlimited packages offer speeds lower than that offered by 4G, Vodafone Max is the only plan capable of reaching the fast speeds offered by 5G.

The Vodafone unlimited data plans will be available from 10 July.

Rival EE, which became the first to launch 5G in the UK in May, offers a SIM-only 5G plan starting at £32 per month for 20GB of data.

EE’s handset plans start at £54 per month for 10GB per month – an amount that could prove problematic for data-heavy users given the faster speeds at which they would get through their data.

EE’s initial launch saw six cities get 5G coverage: Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester.

Rivals Three and O2 plan to launch their own 5G networks in August and in the autumn respectively.

Vodafone unlimited data plans for business

Vodafone is also offering competitively priced plans to businesses at the same price as 4G and with unlimited data.

The Vodafone unlimited data plans for businesses are:

  • Business Unlimited Lite: £19.16 (excluding VAT) per month for 2Mbps
  • Business Unlimited: £21.66 (excluding VAT) per month for 10Mbps
  • Business Unlimited Max: £25 per month (excluding VAT) for data at the fastest speed available in that area

“5G is a game-changer for the economy and UK businesses,” said Anne Sheehan, business director of Vodafone UK.

“We are committed to helping our customers take advantage of this technology by making it widely available in the UK and through roaming. We want to help UK businesses become global leaders and 5G will play an important role in achieving that aim.”

5G haptic transfer

Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was at the Vodafone 5G launch to press the big red button that officially turned on 5G across the seven UK cities, alongside Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery.

No launch event is complete without a demonstration. To showcase the network’s faster speeds, Vodafone carried out the first haptic transfer over 5G. Haptic transfer is the virtual transmission of touch across distances.

Wasps’ rugby player Will Rowlands tackled a sensor-covered training pad 100 miles away in Coventry. The tactile impact of this was transferred via Vodafone’s 5G network in real-time to teammate Juan de Jongh on stage in London, who felt the tackle via a haptic Tesla suit.

Vodafone 5G launch haptic transfer
The world’s first haptic rugby tackle over Vodafone’s 5G network.

Despite its publicity stunt nature, haptic transfer technology has interesting potential use cases for the future, such as remote surgery or robots in high-risk areas such as mines.

Vodafone will hope the 5G launch and its unlimited data plans will provide a boost to recent poor financial performances.

Read more: Vodafone Techstarter Awards rewards 8 startups for their ‘strong social purpose’