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5G race hotting up in UK cities

RootMetrics analysis of UK 5G sees rapid improvement in overall network capability, with BT-owned network recording the highest availability in all four cities tested and fastest download speed approaching 200Mbps

The June 2021 edition of RootMetrics’ 5G Scorecard shows a next-generation comms infrastructure that has rapidly raised the bar in terms of 5G availability and download speeds.

To track the progress of 5G as it expands across the UK, RootMetrics tests network performance in 16 of the country’s most populous cities every six months.

The mobile network performance benchmark firm’s study aims to provide insights into the most typical end-user 5G experience in leading UK cities, looking at “everyday” performance using both 5G-only technology and 5G mixed-mode – in other words, it looked at the common experience of switching between 5G and 4G LTE during the same data service.  Combining these two 5G possibilities, RootMetrics said it could reflect the most typical user experience when connected to 5G for any amount of time, offering a high-level snapshot of what the analyst recorded for each operator across four recently tested cities in the first half of 2021.

Like its previous edition, the June 5G Scorecard – which this time examined performance in the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and Nottingham –  showed 5G competition among the UK’s four main network providers is intensifying and that while Vodafone and O2 delivered strong everyday 5G median download speeds in the first half of 2021, with Vodafone clocking the single-fastest everyday 5G median download speed of any operator at 192.2Mbps in Glasgow, EE was still the leader when it came to providing the combination of consistently broad availability plus fast speeds for UK mobile users.

The BT-owned mobile network posted the highest everyday 5G availability in all four cities tested, and its median download speeds were consistently strong. EE’s lowest speed clocked was 113.5Mbps in Glasgow, while its fastest everyday 5G median download speed was 135.3Mbps in Cardiff. RootMetrics said EE customers should find both widespread access to 5G plus fast speeds in all four cities featured in the June 5G Scorecard.

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Monitored just as the company was merging with the UK’s leading cable provider, Virgin Media O2 was found to offer something of a mixed bag. O2 was found to have “pleasing” everyday 5G speeds, with the provider clocking the fastest everyday 5G median download speed in Edinburgh at 163.3Mbps, along with good speeds in the other cities tested. While O2’s everyday 5G availability had room for improvement in both Glasgow (11.9%) and Nottingham (17.1%), RootMetrics said the good news was that O2 had shown an expanded 5G footprint since the second half of 2020.

Three UK recorded the slowest everyday 5G median download speeds in all four cities, but its 5G speeds were still much faster than its overall speeds across all network technologies. Three’s fastest everyday 5G median download speed in the June 5G Scorecard was recorded in Glasgow at 92.2Mbps, whereas EE, O2 and Vodafone all posted everyday 5G median download speeds above 100Mbps in all four cities.

Three’s highest everyday 5G availability, meanwhile, was 36.0% in Nottingham, which was higher than that of O2 in the city (17.1%), but not nearly as high as EE’s 64.0%. That said, Three showed improved everyday 5G availability in all four cities since the second half of 2020.
Although RootMetrics did not record any 5G for Vodafone in Nottingham, the operator performed well in the three cities where it did offer 5G. Vodafone was also recorded to have shown encouraging progress and improvements since the second half of 2020. In fact, Vodafone’s everyday 5G availability and median download speeds improved in all three of its cities with 5G since 2H 2020.

Vodafone registered particularly notable gains in Cardiff – its everyday 5G availability in Cardiff nearly doubled since 2H 2020, moving from 23.4% to 44.2%, while its everyday 5G median download speed jumped from 106.9Mbps to 140.2Mbps in 1H 2021, the fastest in the city.

“The best 5G experience is built on both strong availability and fast speeds – not just one or the other,” said Patrick Linder, chief marketing officer at RootMetrics commenting on the June scorecard . “The good news is that all four providers have improved their everyday 5G availability since our previous round of testing, and 5G speeds are also climbing steadily.”

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