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EE attains leadership in UK mobile network performance in first half of 2020

As the way in which people use networks has dramatically changed over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, 5G is changing the game in UK mobile, research has found

Boasting what were described as fast speeds and excellent reliability across the UK as a whole, within the nations, and across major cities, BT-owned operator EE has been confirmed as the leading UK operator for overall network performance, according to research by RootMetrics by IHS Markit.

The 1H 2020 UK Mobile Performance in Review offered real-world mobile performance insights to give an independent view of each UK carrier’s performance. In its analysis, RootMetrics visited over 750 locations across the country and performed over 535,000 tests across the UK. In total, 22,082 miles were driven to offer the most accurate picture of mobile performance available. All tests were conducted using off-the-shelf Samsung Note 10+ 5G smartphones purchased from operator stores.

In addition to noting EE as the operator to beat, the review regarded rival O2 as delivering strong data and call reliability in nearly all 16 UK cities RootMetrics tested in 1H 2020. It added that Three had shown improvement UK-wide, with particularly strong test results, and that Vodafone remained a strong performer, ranking second in six of the seven test categories in UK-wide testing.

Drilling deeper, EE retained its status as the leading operator across all levels of testing, with its fast speeds standing out from other operators. It was the only operator company to register median download speeds in excess of 30 Mbps in all 16 UK cities tested, recording median download speeds over 50 Mbps in half of those cities, with the fastest median download speed recorded in Manchester at 73.0 Mbps.

EE was also said to have registered “excellent” call results, earning Call RootScore Awards in six of the seven cities in which RootScore Awards were available in the first half of 2020. EE also won the new RootMetrics Network Accessibility RootScore Award in six cities.

O2 was said to have delivered outstanding data and call reliability across most UK cities. Its text results also meant it was the joint leader for text performance in six cities. While other operators were found to have showed progress in download speeds, O2’s speeds remained consistent with what was recorded in the second half of 2019.

The majority of O2’s speeds remained within the 10-30 Mbps range, giving its customers, said the analyst, enough speed to complete typical mobile activities such as refreshing Instagram or streaming without much trouble.

Speed gains

The study showed Three as delivering speed gains as well as improving reliability in major cities. This was partly due to the operator showing improvements in blocked call and data reliability testing compared to the second half of last year. Three’s speed results did trail EE and Vodafone, but the operator continued to record median download speeds between 10-20 Mbps in the vast majority of cities tested.

The test put Vodafone on the heels of EE across several categories in UK-wide testing, while also delivering strong results in nations and major cities. Vodafone managed to deliver median download speeds faster than 50 Mbps, but it did have mixed results, with speeds below 20 Mbps recorded in eight cities.

Long known for offering strong reliability, Vodafone’s data and call reliability results were excellent in nearly every city tested. Vodafone earned Call RootScore Awards in five out of seven cities, a tally higher than those of either O2 or Three but a bit lower than that of EE.

Even though still in a relatively nascent form in the UK, 5G networks were seen as a great leveller on UK networks. 5G is available in many of the cities recently tested and, noted RootMetrics, has shown early signs of the extraordinary impact it can have with use cases such as driverless cars to remote healthcare being trialled.

EE was the only operator with 5G available in all 16 UK cities tested in during 1H 2020, and its 5G coverage was broad compared with that of other operators, with 5G availability above 21% in 12 markets. For perspective, RootMetrics found that none of the other operators exceeded 5G availability of 17% in any city. EE recorded 5G median download speeds of at least 103.9 Mbps in all 16 cities. This was the best combination of 5G availability and speed.

O2 recorded its fastest 5G median download speed of 121.3 Mbps in Belfast, while also scoring its highest 5G availability rate of 0.6% in the city. RootMetrics said that for O2 users in the Belfast city centre, their connected experience will only improve as the 5G network expands.

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Three recorded both the fastest median and maximum 5G download speeds at 193.7 Mbps and 478.1 Mbps respectively, but Three’s 5G coverage was relatively limited. Vodafone recorded its fastest 5G median download speed in London, clocking 181.8 Mbps, which was also the fastest speed among all operators in the city. Vodafone showed consistently fast 5G speeds in the majority of cities where it offered 5G, but similar to Three, Vodafone’s 5G availability was limited.

RootMetrics noted that while 5G was clearly fast, availability remained mixed across the operators tested in 1H 2020. It added that generally low 5G availability shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, as from a marketing perspective, operators had been quick to launch 5G in specific sections of cities or to satisfy the requirements of their enterprise customers. However, it predicted 5G would become more widely available as the technology was rolled out further afield later in 2020 and beyond.

As the overall leader in network performance for the UK as a whole, EE registered strong performance across the nations as well, earning 25 UK-Nation RootScore Awards out of 28 total award opportunities. O2 performed especially well in Wales, earning the Text RootScore Award and finishing second in the network accessibility category.

Three and Vodafone also performed well in Wales. Three showed great call and text results in Wales, but the operator recorded the slowest aggregate median download speed in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Vodafone won or shared awards across all seven test categories in Wales and recorded an aggregate median download speed of 30.8 Mbps in the country. Vodafone finished with the second-highest total of nation-level awards at 12.

“The way we use mobile networks has dramatically changed over the past several months. Whether people are working from home or video calling friends and loved ones, it’s clear that connectivity is becoming more important than ever to our daily lives,” said Kevin Hasley, chief commercial officer at RootMetrics by IHS Markit, commenting on the results.

“In our most recent testing, EE continues to be the UK’s leading operator in terms of performance, and their early progression with 5G puts them in a good spot going forward. However, given the recent news for the UK telecom sector, there is ample opportunity for Vodafone, Three and O2 to compete with EE. As our connected communities expand, it’s critical that we all understand how our networks truly perform.”

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