EE’s 5G network is now live in the UK and we took the first available device – the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G – around London to see what sort of speeds we could achieve. The EE 5G Network

EE is the first UK network to put its 5G network live. It’s currently accessible in specific parts of six UK cities: Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, London, Manchester and Birmingham. I’ll be heading to some of those other cities in the coming days and weeks to get a gauge on speeds there, but for now, let’s have a look a how the 5G network fares in London.

EE is initially focussing on tourist-heavy, high footfall areas where previous 4G networks have quickly become clogged up and slow when busy. These include places like Covent Garden, Soho, St Paul’s and Chancery Lane. 

There’s a big focus on outside areas, and while you’ll get a much stronger signal outdoors, I ran a number of speed tests inside the shopping centre surrounding Canary Wharf station and the speeds were 4x that of 4G – 120Mbps as opposed to 30Mbps. Interestingly, testing it from our Canary Wharf office saw the 5G symbol appear but no noticeable improvements to the speed.

EE reps told me it was improving the 5G network on a daily basis and you’ll see more cities – Leicester, Sheffield and Coventry to name three – go live with 5G before the year is up. This is a very long-term project and the speeds you’ll see today will likely vary a lot over the coming months.

5G speeds in central London & key train stations

With a fully-charged OnePlus 7 Pro and an EE 5G SIM, I headed to a number of the highlighted 5G spots to see just how faster it is and how it compares to 4G. All these speeds shown will vary drastically depending on the time of the day and will likely change as EE adds more areas and improves its 5G network.

Covent Garden (outdoors, 2.50pm, June 4, 2019)

This is a strong example of the sheer speed benefits 5G can offer when directly comparing to 4G. Covent Garden is a massively busy area and I found 5G coverage impressive wandering around. See the above picture for the 5G speeds and the below for the 4G. Both using a OnePlus 7 Pro on EE.

It’s heavily rumoured the iPhone 11 won’t support 5G, but at least you get great 5G speeds around its Covent Garden store…

Soho (outdoors, 2.15pm, June 4, 2019)

Some of the fastest speeds I managed to hit were around Soho, specifically in Golden Square. 4G speeds were very impressive in this area too, often hitting 250Mbps.

Walking around the area, from Charing Cross station into Soho and then back to Covent Garden, I had the 5G icon showing for much of the journey. Notable black spots were Picaddily Circus and the area around Dover Street Market.

Charing Cross station (outdoors, 1.57pm, June 4, 2019)

Speeds were consistently high outside Charing Cross station and around The Strand.

Canary Wharf station (indoors, 1pm, June 3, 2019)

This one was more of a surprise. EE is focussing a lot of 5G improvements to outdoor sites (like the ones listed above) but that’s not to say there’s no indoor coverage at all. Inside the shopping centre surrounding Canary Wharf station I got a constant 5G signal.

On the train (indoors, 4.45pm, June 3, 2019)

I even got a very strong 5G signal with impressive speeds on a moving DLR train between Canary Wharf and Heron Quays station.

While the most immediately obvious 5G benefit is sheer speed, it’s not all about loading that Netflix video or downloading a podcast quicker. One of my favourite 5G benefits is the removal of the annoying bottleneck you’ll find so often on 4G networks.

If you’ve tried loading up Instagram, Facebook, or just browsing the web at a busy train station or even in bustling parts of a town you’ll know the pain of seeing a full signal bar, but getting nothing when you try and browse. 5G should solve this.

The Phone

Look through the selection of currently available EE 5G phonesand you’ll instantly see a theme: they’re all big. Samsung created a special version of its S10 (Samsung Galaxy S10 5G) with a bigger screen than anything else it sells for 5G and Huawei’s first 5G device, the Mate X, has a pocket-busting 7.2-inch panel.

Thankfully, for OnePlus anyway, the 7 Pro is already a phone that just about dwarfs the competition when it comes to size. Instead of building a separate larger phone for 5G, OnePlus just made its 2019 flagship very big in the first place.

Put the OnePlus 7 Pro side-by-side with the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and you’ll see two phones that look exactly the same. They both weigh the same, have the antennas in the same spots and have the same thickness.

Where the difference really lies is inside. OnePlus has completely rebuilt the phone internally, stretching the cooling system across the entire back and halving the size of the NFC chip. There’s also the Qualcomm X50 modem tucked in there enabling 5G, alongside the Snapdragon 855 chipset.

That extra-large cooling system should (and in my experience, so far does) ensure the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G doesn’t get any more noticeably hot than the non-5G version.

5G battery life – findings so far

My biggest concern with not only the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, but all 5G phones, is battery life. OnePlus hasn’t upped the size of the battery here, and with the 7 Pro not being one of the longest-lasting phones anyway, that extra strain of 5G is worrying. 

Qualcomm has promised that all 5G phones with an 855 processor and X50 modem (which the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G has) will give you a day’s worth of power – we’ll see about that.

There are a couple of things to mitigate 5G battery drain: a Smart 5G option in the Settings that’ll automatically switch between 5G and non-5G networks and of course the usual battery saver mode.

A huge drain on the OnePlus 7 Pro’s battery life is the admittedly fantastic 90Hz 6.7-inch QHD+ display. As this display refreshes 90 times a second, rather than 60 on most phones, it’s using more battery with everything you do. 

I’ve only been using the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G for a day and most of that time has been spent running from London landmark to London landmark, so hardly a fair representation of battery life. But I will say I managed to go through the fully-charged battery between 10 am and 5 pm. At least there’s the exceptionally fast Warp Charge that’ll juice you back up in about 80 minutes.

It’s the first 5G phone you can buy

The OnePlus 7 Pro 5G is the UK’s first 5G phone (more are coming on June 7, so it’s a short exclusivity period) and it makes perfect sense. OnePlus’ focus is speed and its ‘Never Settle’ slogan shows it’s always trying to be the first to market with something. This is the fastest phone, performance-wise, around, and now it has access to the fastest network. You’ve also got the legions of 5G fans who will happily queue on launch day to be part of it. This isn’t really something you’d see with Huawei and LG.

It’s also a terrific phone with the only real weakness coming in the good (but far from great) camera. It has the best display I have ever used on a phone; has cleverly designed software that’s actually an improvement on Google’s version of Android and a novel approach to getting rid of the notch.