After years of excited speculation, dismaying delays and precarious geopolitical tension, 5G has finally arrived. At least, the network is available across an increasing number of hotspots in the UK. With the main four carriers competing for connectivity, more locations are sure to be on the way shortly.
The potential of 5G has electrified debate in the tech sphere, with some enthusiastic supporters claiming that the speed of 5G on smartphones could make broadband redundant. 5G’s capabilities are indeed impressive. Most notably, 5G download speeds leave broadband connections in the dust. The convenience of connectivity on-the-go could further dent the relevance of broadband packages for consumers.
Is broadband really under threat from 5G?
However, is broadband really under threat? Is there a chance the 5G-versus-broadband debate has been exaggerated, thanks to our fixation on the ‘newness’ of tech? Given that 5G connectivity currently depends on data packages included with phone contracts and compatible models, is it even possible for 5G to replace broadband?
In this article, we’ll explore whether 5G can overtake broadband for the UK market. We’ll compare the top providers of broadband and 5G coverage in the UK, sharing links to our free comparison tools to help inform your choice of provider.
What is 5G?
5G is a cellular network. Compatible mobile devices use cellular networks to connect to the internet remotely, provided the device is geographically located in supported areas (referred to in this article as ‘coverage’). 5G is just the latest iteration of cellular networks; believe it or not, the first basic cellular network was launched in the 1970s although its usage was limited.
Cellular networks, like other internet systems, are judged on how much information (data) they can download from a website per second. The measurement is given in Megabytes, so a download speed would be typically expressed as Mbps (Megabytes per second).
5G vs Broadband: What’s the difference?
One of the reasons that some commentators believe 5G could replace broadband is due to the new network’s download speeds. The average broadband speed in the UK is 50.4 Mbps. 5G, on the other hand, boasts a reported average speed of 100 – 200 Mbps.
For an example of how 5G’s potential could change internet usage, we can look at the impact of previous upgrades to cellular networks.
What 4G did to the internet
4G was launched in 2012. At the time, the network represented a huge upgrade in download speeds, from 21 Mbps (on the 3G network) to approximately 60 Mbps. Perhaps the greatest consequence of the three-fold increase in speed was that it made video streaming easy on-the-go.
Social media platforms have recognised video as the most engaging format for users, prioritising video content above other mediums in recent years. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that as of 2022, video makes up 82% of all commercial internet traffic.
All of a sudden, it’s clear why some tech enthusiasts expect 5G could have a similar impact on our use of the internet. However, it’s a bit more complicated than assuming 5G will replace broadband in the near future.
Is broadband in danger of losing its appeal?
It seems unlikely for the moment. For one thing, the 5G network has only recently gone live in the UK, and coverage is far from universal. 5G connectivity is entirely dependent on your contracted provider and geographic location.
It’s also important to recognise that until recently, broadband was the most reliable way to connect to the internet. The typical broadband speed in the UK is under the reported average for the 4G cellular network. But some rural areas still aren’t covered by 4G, especially in Scotland, northern England and Wales.
Furthermore, when 4G was first announced, it was claimed that the network would be capable of download speeds at 400 Mbps. Although possible in theory, most people aren’t experiencing that type of speed, even in central London where connectivity is most advanced.
That being said, broadband costs are on the rise, at a time when households in the UK are already experiencing a cost of living squeeze. With mobile bills also set to go up, broadband providers could find in time that demand for their broadband services decreases, as consumers look to consolidate their internet usage in future.
5G potential not fully realised
Fortunately for broadband providers, it’s not like 5G can replace broadband… yet. Broadband coverage remains comparatively extensive, even in rural areas. As with 4G, the cellular network upgrade’s rollout is urban-focused first. It’ll be some years before 5G connectivity is widespread enough to give broadband providers pause for thought.
At the moment, the pricing structure for cellular network usage also protects broadband services to a degree. Broadband charges are usually determined by a monthly fee determined by speed. By contrast, cellular data charges look set to follow the model of capping usage based on the total amount of data downloaded.
Broadband is safe… for now
It will take some time before broadband is really under threat, at least in the UK. Consumers need to be especially careful that they are receiving value for money. Getting the best deal can ensure that you minimise the sting of increasing costs at a time when you can least afford it.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the top broadband providers in the UK. Using our free comparison tool, you can quickly determine the best deal for you. We’ve then compared each of the four main networks for 5G connectivity, identifying where the upgraded network is available to date.
Costs can vary depending on your location, so whilst we have given approximate figures, your best bet is to use a free tool to compare the charges in your postcode. We’ve provided a selection of the top broadband providers below, but there are many more to explore on the Free Price Comparison website.
Use our free tool now to compare the best deals in your area across all broadband providers.
Sky boasts pretty fast connection speeds, between 59 Mbps and 145 Mbps for their Ultrafast Broadband package. There are installation fees to consider, and some offers are only valid for new customers, so it’s important to do your research before committing to Sky broadband.
One of the most established telecommunications providers on the list, BT (British Telecom) has wide connectivity across the UK. The average cost is around £30 per month, making BT one of the more expensive providers on this list. However the average speed for BT connections is between 50 Mbps to 145 Mbps, depending on the package you choose. There is no installation cost, free hardware is included and the company offers 24 month contracts.
Plusnet might be slower than some of the broadband providers at the top of the list, but there are other factors you should consider besides speed when seeking the best deal. Plusnet provides a free router, free activation and a shorter contract than BT at 18 months. The fastest speed Plusnet offers is an average of 66 Mbps, which is the national average as listed by Ofcom.
With the company’s Future Fibre package, TalkTalk offers speeds of up to 500 Mbps on some tariffs. Ideal for intense usage, Future Fibre is designed to avoid disruptions to internet connectivity even for high-demand applications like gaming. However, TalkTalk also provides more standardised packages for average internet users, with a decent range of options.
Some of the very fastest broadband speeds are on offer with Vodafone. Ranges stretch from 102 Mbps to 500 Mbps on the Pro Ultrafast 500 package. As with other providers, the value of deals does depend on whether you’re a new customer, so it’s worth checking out what the company has on offer. The length of contracts is generally 24 months.
Mobile deals can be a bit more complicated at a glance. The value of the deals depends on a number of factors, not least the make and model of the mobile. Some providers are offering 5G packages on SIM only deals. However, as handsets need to be 5G compatible first to access the faster network, it’s important you have the right device.
For the purposes of this article, we’ve compared the level of 5G coverage that you can expect with each of the UK’s four core networks. Each of the businesses listed below has their own 5G coverage, whilst other network providers (such as Tesco Mobile, for example) use one of the following companies to support their services:
EE enjoys the widest 5G coverage of the four so far, with significant connectivity stretching across Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff as well as London. In Scotland, EE provides decent coverage in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
O2 has 5G connectivity in other locations, notably Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham and Belfast in Northern Ireland. O2 also supports 5G in more Scottish cities, with both Aberdeen and Dundee enjoying similar connectivity as the capital and Glasgow.
Vodafone also has a sizable spread of 5G coverage. Aside from the UK’s major cities, Vodafone also supports Reading, Swindon, Southampton and Portsmouth among other significant towns in England.
Mobile network Three is just behind EE in terms of 5G coverage throughout the UK. There are also some spots where Three provides coverage not supported by their competitor networks at the current time, such as Falkirk in Scotland, Carlisle in the far northwest of England, as well as York, Hull and a generous stretch of the West Midlands.
It’s worth noting that coverage will increase over time, so make sure to check up on the 5G rollout across the UK before making your purchase.
5G will most likely continue to accelerate the use of video streaming, but (at least for the moment) broadband will remain an essential part of modern life. Broadband still enjoys substantial coverage across the UK. However, customers should be vigilant for new deals to minimise their exposure to price hikes.
Meanwhile, the mobile network you select today will determine your level of 5G connectivity. Competition for new customers will probably encourage mobile network operators to launch 5G coverage in more locations rapidly. But, as with broadband, the best way customers can maximise value for money is by using quick and easy comparisons to grab the best deals.
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