Vodafone announces a big 5G speed boost - but it's only in one direction

Much faster upload speeds are coming this year, and you don't need the latest phones to benefit

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Vodafone will be giving its 5G network a big upgrade this year, and it should massively reduce the amount of time it takes to upload images, videos and other content to social media. It'll also be a boon for remote workers who need their upload speeds to be closer to their download speeds.

In association with Qualcomm and Xiaomi, Vodafone carried out its first European test of the new 5G uplink technology this month. Peak upload speeds were 273 megabits per second (Mbps), nearly three times the average upload speed of today's phones and even home broadband connections. In addition to the speed boost, the tech improves coverage and capacity too.

The upgrade uses what's called 5G Standalone, 5G SA for short, and it's compatible with phones going back several years: for example both the Samsung Galaxy S21 and iPhone 13 support 5G SA technology. However, the very fastest speeds are likely to be in the next generation of flagships, such as Android phones with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 Mobile platform.

What is 5G SA and why do we want it?

There are two kinds of 5G network: there's 5G Standalone, aka 5G SA, and there's 5G Not Standalone, or 5G NSA for short. Right now, the UK's mobile networks are 5G NSA: although they deliver 5G, a lot of it is delivered via 4G-spec infrastructure.

The reason for that is simple enough: it made it easier and cheaper to roll out 5G without having to completely replace every single part of the network. But it means that the core network could still be better, especially when it comes to coverage, capacity and security. If like me you live in a city or visit one for gigs or sporting events, you've probably experienced the problem where you can get a 5G signal but it feels like you're on 3G, especially in busy areas. 

There are other benefits too: 5G SA should deliver improved battery life and lower latency, with considerably less lag than you get on current connections. That's good news for gamers, of course, but it's also good news for any applications where delays can be a problem – such as future self-driving vehicles or remote healthcare.

There's no firm launch date for 5G SA in the UK just yet, but while Vodafone is the first UK network trialling 5G SA it isn't the only one investing in upgrades: EE and O2 have also committed to upgrading their core networks, although for now we don't have a timescale for rollouts. As ever with phone tech, busy cities are likely to get the upgrades first; if you're in a remote area you'll have to wait longer.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series; her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, was shortlisted for the British Book Awards. When she’s not scribbling, Carrie is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind (unquietmindmusic).