BT prepares to unleash 5G in Belfast but launch date is under wraps
Belfast will have its fastest internet speeds when 5G is launched by BT-owned mobile network company EE, it has emerged.
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BT has set a date later this year when 5G services, tipped to be 10 times faster than 4G, will be available in the city.
It comes as an economic impact report commissioned by BT said the telecoms giant had made a contribution of £592m to the economy here through gross value added (GVA) during 2017/18.
The report by Hatch Regeneris said the company has 2,650 direct employees, as well as 579 contractors.
BT Enterprise's chief executive Gerry McQuade said Belfast will be one of 16 UK centres to receive 5G this year.
5G is the next generation of wireless mobile connections, succeeding the 4G networks currently in use on smartphones.
He said 5G will process data even faster than the body's nervous system.
"If you put your finger in boiling water, it takes time for signal to get to brain. 5G would be faster," he said.
But the date of the launch is a tightly guarded secret.
"We haven't given the date. We want to be first with 5G. We're pretty comfortable with the date we're working to but it's a very competitive space so we're very keen not to say," he said.
Mr McQuade said the company was recruiting highly skilled people in engineering and technology, many of whom are graduates from the two local universities.
"There are about 4,000 graduates coming out every year with business and tech degrees so that gives us a really strong timeline to allow us to develop," he added.
"All the way through in Northern Ireland from primary school up, the attainment in maths is high and STEM subjects are very well taught."
The company also operates an innovation centre in Belfast which researches technologies including 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things.
"Ultimately we want to deliver connectivity that is agnostic to the underlying technology, whether it's 5G, 4G, broadband or WiFi," he said.
And BT's partnership with Ulster University placed it in the company of other partners Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he said.
The opening of the innovation centre, which has 61 staff, marked an investment of over £28m by BT, Invest NI and Ulter University.
The company is also preparing for Brexit with "a number of plans to cover various scenarios," Mr McQuade said. "From day one within the business, we've had a steering committee to look across all future scenarios - tax, legal, policy, procurement, people, supply chains... we're not expecting customers to access our products any differently (after Brexit) but certainty does make things easier."
In addition the company is due to launch new InLink points in Belfast by the end of the month. InLinks will be placed in locations formerly used for phone boxes and will be a place where the public can make free phone calls, have internet access and charge their phones.
BT has also been working on a nine-year public sector shared network deal awarded by the Department of Finance to help the "digital transformation" of government departments.
The Hatch Regeneris report estimates that the equivalent of 6,980 full-time jobs here are supported through BT's direct employment, its spending with contractors and suppliers and the spending of its employees.
It said that spread was equivalent to one in every 10 employees working in the local IT and communications sectors, which BT said reinforced its position as one of the province's main employers.
BT Group includes Openreach, mobile network provider EE and BT's Consumer and Enterprise divisions.