BT Telecommunications Aims to Lead UK Telecom Market With Its Own 5G Standalone Network

By Thea Felicity

Mar 01, 2024 12:10 PM EST

(Photo : CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP via Getty Images)
A view of the British Telecom (BT) headquarters in central London on March 10, 2017. - British telecoms giant BT Group has agreed to legally separate its broadband unit Openreach to remedy concerns over competition in the sector, the company announced today. Created by BT in 2005, Openreach maintains tens of millions of copper and fibre lines connecting telephone exchanges to homes and businesses across the UK.

The British telecommunications giant BT anticipates rolling out its inaugural "standalone 5G" network in 2024. 

In an interview with CNBC, BT's chief technology officer, Howard Watson, affirmed the company's commitment to activating its standalone 5G network, to which they dubbed as the "true" 5G, later this year. 

Prior to that, however, Watson emphasized the importance of establishing the right ecosystem, including compatible devices, for the rollout.

This announcement follows a trial conducted by BT in collaboration with Swedish telco infrastructure firm Ericsson and chipmaking giant Qualcomm, demonstrating network slicing. Network slicing enables the creation of multiple networks on a shared physical infrastructure.

While rivals Vodafone and Virgin Media O2 have already implemented 5G standalone solutions, BT's EE, the UK's largest mobile network, is yet to launch its standalone network. The timing of EE's launch hinges on the compatibility of Apple's upcoming iPhone 16 with 5G standalone technology.

For context, since its acquisition in 2016, BT has overseen the operation of the EE mobile network.

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For BT Communications, 5G standalone networks offer segmented network capabilities, catering to specific application requirements like low latency, which is crucial for activities such as online gaming. 

Interestingly---BT aims to leverage standalone 5G as a revenue booster, aligning with its broader strategy to capitalize on next-generation networks. 

However, consumer understanding and adoption of 5G have been hindered by its perceived incremental benefits over 4G, compounded by uneven 5G coverage in many regions.

The successful deployment of standalone 5G networks hinges on smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung incorporating standalone capabilities into their devices. But Watson remains hopeful for Apple's next iPhone release, anticipating its potential to support standalone 5G in Europe.

In 2023, BT's consumer division rebranded to expand services, challenging Meta, Google, Apple, and Amazon. As the UK's top telecom firm, BT will soon dominate the broadband and mobile markets, serving large businesses too.

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