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EE retains top spot for UK mobile network performance

UK mobile survey shows increasing user reliance on connectivity, with network operators needing to act now to ensure strong performance for consumer demands across work use cases

RootMetrics has published its latest semi-annual mobile performance benchmarking for UK operators, and has found that as the pace of 5G roll-outs increases for users relying on fast data connectivity for business applications and streaming videos, EE has retained its top spot over the last six months of 2019.

In the survey, the mobile phone network company aimed to gain a view of current operator performance at UK-wide, nation and metro levels, while providing a look at how 5G can improve users’ connected experiences.

RootMetrics tested UK carrier networks from nation to neighbourhood, with tests conducted across major metropolitan markets, cities and towns of all sizes, rural areas and the highways that connect them.

The H2 2019 test saw the firm’s scouters drive 21,535 miles, visit 811 indoor locations and conduct more than 593,000 scientific tests of mobile performance. UK-wide, nation and metro tests were conducted using unmodified, off-the-shelf Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphones purchased from operator stores to test EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three.

The study found that, in general, users were heavily reliant on fast data performance, more likely to make mobile plan purchasing decisions based on data performance, more likely to switch operators based on data performance, and excited about the potential of 5G and what it means for daily connected life. Topline figures from the survey showed increasing user reliance on connectivity, leading RootMetrics to advise network operators to act now to ensure strong performance for consumer demands across work and play.

Of the big four telcos vying for UK-wide dominance, EE continued to dominate performance across the whole of the UK, winning or sharing awards across all six categories tested, while also recording the fastest aggregate median download speed across the UK at 36.5 Mbps. The BT-owned operator has now won or shared all six awards for five consecutive test periods.

EE also led the way during nation testing across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, winning or sharing 22 nation-level awards out of 24 award opportunities. Vodafone remained a close competitor to EE, ranking second across five test categories and sharing top honours with EE for text performance. O2, meanwhile, was the biggest mover in the latest round of testing, showing improvements in the categories of overall performance, network reliability, network speed and data performance.

Read more about UK network coverage

The tests also showed that speeds in UK metro areas, if not rural ones where access to acceptable service levels has become a hot political issue, had made strong improvements over the past two years, even without considering 5G upgrades.

Two years ago, the fastest median download speed recorded by Root Metrics during metro testing was Vodafone’s 38.4 Mbps. In the second half of 2019, the fastest median download speed had improved to EE’s 51.6 Mbps, while the number of metros in which all four operators combined to register median download speeds of at least 30 Mbps increased from eight in the second half of 2017 to 22 in the latest report.  

RootMetrics’ 2H 2019 national results also showed EE as leading across the nations of the UK, winning the overall performance award in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with a total of 28 wins.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, said: “We’re continuing to invest in our network to help keep our customers connected to the things that matter most, whether that’s rolling out 4G to even more places or being the first to bring 5G to the busiest places across the UK.”

The effect of 5G roll-out

Another key aspect of the report was a look into the effect of 5G roll-out, something the research firm said could change the game for UK mobile users. During the summer and autumn of 2019, RootMetrics scouters were busy testing the early stages of EE and Vodafone’s 5G roll-outs in Birmingham, Cardiff and London during its 5G First Look testing.

While 5G results did not factor into the RootMetrics scoring calculations for its UK-wide, nation or metro results, it noted that the 5G performances of EE and Vodafone were impressive, with EE recording faster 5G median download speeds and offering greater 5G availability than Vodafone in all three cities tested. Neither O2 nor Three had launched 5G at the time of testing.

With regard to maximum download speeds, both EE and Vodafone registered what RootMetrics called “remarkable” 5G results in all three cities.

Testing in London recorded EE’s 5G maximum download speed at 327.1 Mbps and Vodafone’s at 314.8 Mbps, but these trailed what RootMetrics recorded in Birmingham (EE at 450.9 Mbps) and Cardiff (Vodafone at 345.9 Mbps). They were also considerably slower than the fastest maximum download speeds that RootMetrics has found to date in the USA on the Verizon 5G network at 1.1 Gbps in Chicago, and LG U+ in South Korea clocking in at 902.7 Mbps in Seoul.

“The importance of fast and reliable mobile connectivity is greater than ever for both consumers and businesses alike, and we’re at a pivotal moment,” said Kevin Hasley, chief commercial officer at RootMetrics.

“The speeds recorded in our 5G testing show game-changing differences, while lower latency will improve immersive user experiences such as virtual reality and gaming. Combine the faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity of 5G, and we’re moving closer and closer to the core of what’s required to provide a hyper-connected world.”

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