Mobile operator EE has announced that it is switching on 5G sites in 16 UK cities next year. The first cities will be the UK’s four capitals, London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, plus Birmingham and Manchester.

The company, part of BT Group, is establishing 5G in the busiest parts of the cites, such as Waverly station in Edinburgh, where the technology can provide a more reliable data connection to business and consumer customers, even in the presence of big crowds.

As well as the six launch cities, EE will also be introducing 5G across the busiest parts of ten more UK cities; Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, and Bristol.

Marc Allera, chief executive of BT’s Consumer division, said: “Adding 5G to the UK’s number one 4G network will increase reliability, increase speeds, and keep our customers connected where they need it most. This is another milestone for the UK and for our network journey – we’ll keep evolving as we move to one, smart network for our customers. We have an ambition to connect our customers to 4G, 5G or WiFi 100% of the time.”

The company said its rollout is determined by the number of business and consumer customers the EE network connects in busy places, and the amount of data those customers use. For example, in the last three months alone, more than 2.1 million individual customers connected around Waterloo station, with just one site at the station carrying more than 100 terabytes of data per day.

The first 1,500 sites that EE is upgrading to 5G in 2019 carry 25% of all data across the whole network, but only cover 15% of the UK population. EE is upgrading to 5G where it can make the biggest difference to the most people, said the company.

EE is upgrading transmission to 10Gbps links at each 5G site, and has tested the new links – the fastest in use anywhere in the UK, it said – at its trial sites in Canary Wharf and across East London.

The firm said it was launch the service with multiple smartphone partners, as well as an EE 5G Home router with external antenna. BT’s technology team is virtualising elements of the core network, and is building a next generation 5G core in line with global standards.

The functions of the virtualised network will sit on a cloud native infrastructure, creating the basis for a smart and fully converged agile network, said EE. The BT 21CN backbone network is Petabit-class, and will, said the company, “ensure the future-proofed scale required to enable a world-leading 5G experience”.

EE is still upgrading 4G sites as part of its overall network strategy, while turning 3G signal into 4G to enable more spectrum for a better network experience.