By Paul Sandle
NEWBURY, England (Reuters) - Vodafone <VOD.L> said it would have 1,000 5G-enabled network sites in Britain by 2020, delivering blisteringly fast speeds and near-instant response times that it demonstrated by making Britain's first holographic mobile call on Thursday.
The mobile phone company, which will start trials of 5G technology in seven British cities in the coming weeks, said Cornwall in southwest England and the Lake District national park in the northwest - two regions poorly served by existing coverage - would receive 5G during 2019.
The advent of fifth generation mobile telecoms is essential to coping with growth in demand for ever-higher speeds, capacity and reliability, and operators hope it will open up a host of new business cases such as connected cars, factories and cities.
All four of Britain's networks are kicking off trials of 5G services, although consumers will not be able to make calls until 5G-ready handsets start to arrive next year.
Vodafone UK's chief technology officer Scott Petty said 5G technology would ultimately enable speeds of 1 gigabit per second, opening up a plethora of opportunities for ultra-high definition content and immersive services.
And importantly, the technology has near instant response times, eliminating the lag that for example causes motion sickness in users of virtual reality headsets.
"Latency opens up a whole host of new capabilities in gaming, in virtual reality and augment reality applications but also for businesses," Petty said.
Vodafone demonstrated the technology in a holographic call between England Women's soccer captain Steph Houghton in Manchester and 11-year old fan Iris in the company's UK's headquarters in Newbury, near London.
Iris was able to "high five" a holographic Houghton and see a demonstration of her football skills up close, even though Houghton was hundreds of miles away.
Petty said scale shipments of brand-name 5G-ready smartphones would probably come at the back-end of 2019. "Real scale availability across a broad range of manufacturers of handsets (will come) in 2020," he said.
He said holographic capabilities would be a natural evolution of video conferencing, but he wouldn't predict how quickly the technology would become common.
Vodafone's incoming CEO Nick Read said at a conference last week that Vodafone could sell some network assets such as towers, but its UK boss Nick Jeffery said that would not happen in Britain.
"We already have a tower company in the UK - CTIL - which we co-own with Telefonica so in a sense you can take the UK out of the discussion," Jeffery said.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Mark Potter)