BT Group has unveiled plans under which it aims to offer ‘high performance 5G solutions across the entire UK and to fuse its leading mobile, Wi-Fi and fibre infrastructures to realise the potential of the UK’s first fully converged network’. In a press release regarding its intentions, BT said that this long-term vision will see it building and bonding next-generation fibre and 5G networks simultaneously.
In terms of some of the specifics of its plans, BT noted that to extend mobile coverage its cellular unit EE will drive 4G connectivity deeper into rural areas by adding over 4,500 square miles of new signal by 2025. In parallel EE’s 5G network will reportedly expand to cover half of the UK’s population by 2023. Meanwhile, utilising the expanded 4G infrastructure, 5G is then expected to pass the geographic reach of 4G to become what the company claimed would be ‘the UK’s largest digital network’ by 2028, providing signal coverage to over 90% of its landmass. To reach this benchmark new 700MHz 5G spectrum, recently secured in Ofcom’s auction, will be deployed across the majority of EE sites, offering stronger indoor and wider rural coverage. Redditch, Morecambe and Cramlington have been announced as the first UK towns that will benefit, with customers able to access the signal from a growing range of 5G handsets.
As part of efforts to ensure all customers can benefit from the most reliable connections, BT also confirmed its intention to retire 3G connectivity, announcing that customers across the various BT brands will be phased off 3G by 2023. According to the operator, 3G usage has been in steady decline and now represents less than 2% of data traffic over the EE network. With the spectrum currently used for 3G to be utilised to enhance 5G capacity in the future, BT has suggested that removing legacy technologies means it can diversify the range of future partners, which is key for developing opportunities like Open RAN in the future.
Meanwhile, BT has also confirmed the sequence of technology milestones that it said will underpin the continuously improving performance of the 5G network and deliver network convergence. A new 5G core network control system will launch by 2023, built upon BT’s distributed ‘Network Cloud’ infrastructure, combining all digital networks. Further, increased use of machine learning will be used to predict and resolve issues before they affect customers and automatically route services through the best available connection, with the operator calling this ‘a major step towards a fully converged and virtualised network’.