Dynamic UK mobile landscape continues to evolve and improve

BT-owned network, EE, comes to the fore as competition drives 5G roll-outs, and leading operators show marked performance improvements across first half of 2021

The UK mobile performance in review 1H 2021 report from RootMetrics has revealed intensifying competition among the UK’s mobile network operators (MNOs) as 5G proliferates across the country, with EE the standout operator as a whole, retaining its position as the MNO to beat across all levels of testing.

As it took the temperature of the UK mobile communications industry in the first half of 2021, RootMetrics carried out more than 600,000 tests in 16 cities and over 750 locations across the country, assessing overall capability in terms of reliability and speed, along with data, call and text performance.

“In the first half of 2021, we saw an already dynamic mobile landscape in the UK continue to evolve and improve. Users will be pleased to see all four main operators improving their performance, particularly when it comes to 5G availability and speed,” said Patrick Linder, chief marketing officer at RootMetrics by IHS Markit.

“With the availability of 5G continuing to grow and all four major operators providing users with Everyday 5G median download speeds above 100Mbps in nearly every city we tested, the providers are clearly making good progress in terms of delivering the key combination of both widespread availability plus fast speeds,” he added.

“While EE was the clear standout in the first half of the year, the improvements we saw from the other operators shouldn’t be overlooked. As the competitive landscape becomes more intense and level over time, users should continue to benefit from better mobile performance.”

The BT-owned EE network was also found to be very strong in metropolitan areas, according to the analyst, providing users across the UK with a “great service in general”. EE delivered the fastest median download speed across all network technologies in every city, while offering “impressive everyday 5G availability and speeds”. In short, said RootMetrics, EE users should be able to access content very quickly, especially when on 5G.

The Three network was found to have delivered particularly good text results during RootMetrics’ testing, with speeds improved since the second half of 2020. Three delivered median download speeds above 30Mbps in three cities in the first half of 2021, a jump from zero in the previous six-month period.

Three’s lower-end speeds improved as well. In the second half of 2020, for instance, Three recorded median download speeds below 20Mbps in 13 out of 16 cities. This time, however, that number improved to four. In effect, said RootMetrics, Three’s users should see faster speeds than at the end of 2020 in applications such as content and entertainment.

Rated as having performed particularly well in the network accessibility category, newly merged Virgin Media O2 was found to have showed strong improvements in general, winning the Network Accessibility RootScore Award in UK-wide testing – its first-ever award at the UK-wide level – and also improved its rankings in UK-wide testing in the categories of overall performance, network reliability and call performance. Virgin Media O2 also took home the most accessibility awards in nation testing in two of the four nations of the UK, while winning or sharing awards for accessibility in 11 out of 16 cities.

The operator also delivered fast overall median download speeds in most cities, and its everyday 5G median download speeds were particularly strong, providing its users with fast file downloads and smooth streaming, among other things. Although RootMetrics said it was too early to predict what the recent merger would do for its overall network performance, the operator was shown to have made significant momentum since the first half of 2020.

Vodafone displayed “good progress” in UK-wide testing in the first half of 2021, taking home three UK RootScore Awards, up from one in the second half of 2020. Vodafone tied for first with EE for network reliability, call performance and text performance. The analyst said the first two results would be particularly welcome for users who might be working on the move as they return to the office.

Vodafone also performed well in major cities, delivering fast speeds and excellent reliability, as well as a better everyday 5G experience compared with the second half of 2020. Vodafone’s 5G service was especially strong in Glasgow, where the operator clocked the fastest everyday 5G median download speed of any operator, at 192.2Mbps.

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