Nic Serpell-Rand/Three

UK’s fastest 5G found outside south-east of England

Analyst’s update on UK next-generation network shows 5G not just spreading, but flourishing across the country in terms of speeds and availability

It may be the country’s financial heart, but when it comes to 5G mobile, the south-east of England has been surpassed by the regions, according to the latest edition of RootMetrics’ benchmarking study of the country’s next-generation mobile infrastructure.

The UK 5G city rankings report for the first half of 2021 revealed that Glasgow, Birmingham and Belfast were the three fastest 5G cities in the UK, with Glasgow’s aggregate 5G median download speed of 144.3Mbps just pipping Birmingham, which was recorded at 143.5Mbps.

The latest report follows up the RootMetrics 1H 2021 UK 5G summary report and ranks UK cities based on aggregate 5G speeds and availability for the 13 cities in which all four major operators – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 – offered 5G. Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham were not eligible for the rankings, with only three operators in each city registering 5G at the time of testing.

The latest report also examined 5G performance in the UK’s three fastest 5G cities and looked at how the speeds of those fastest cities compared to the UK’s three biggest cities. The report also looked at cities that offer a great overall experience by combining widespread 5G availability with fast speeds.

Driving its top median speed, Glasgow returned the UK’s quickest 5G, with Vodafone delivering the fastest 5G median download speed at what the analyst called an “outstanding” 192.2Mbps, which was also the single fastest 5G median download speed that RootMetrics recorded in any UK city over the first half-year. The analyst calculated that at that speed, users can download a 600MB episode of their favourite series from Netflix in less than 30 seconds.

BT-owned EE was reported to have offered “great” speeds and the highest 5G availability in each of the UK’s three fastest 5G cities, giving users both widespread 5G coverage and fast connectivity. Although Three was found to have claimed neither the fastest 5G speed nor the highest 5G availability in any of the three fastest cities, it did deliver strong performances in those areas, said RootMetrics. Three was especially fast in Belfast, where its 5G median download speed of 127.1Mbps was the fastest speed Three recorded in any UK city in 1H 2021.

Virgin Media O2’s 5G “impressed” the analyst in each of the three fastest 5G cities and was particularly rapid in Birmingham and Glasgow. Its 5G median download speeds of 163.7Mbps and 179.3Mbps, respectively, were two of the three fastest 5G speeds RootMetrics recorded in the UK in 1H 2021. Vodafone, with the fastest 5G speed of any operator in Glasgow, was said to be impressive in Birmingham as well, recording a 5G median download speed of 143.8Mbps.

RootMetrics regards the combination of 5G speed and availability as the hallmark of a good user experience and, by this standard, Birmingham was the clear leader and the only city to rank in the top three for both. Aggregate 5G availability in the UK’s other fastest cities, Glasgow and Belfast, trailed Birmingham by some distance, ranking 12th and ninth, respectively, out of 13 cities tested.

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Birmingham came out first among the country’s three biggest cities for 5G speed, recording the second-fastest aggregate 5G speed in the country, along with the second highest availability. Manchester was close behind in the RootMetrics 5G rankings, finishing fourth for aggregate 5G speed and third for availability. By contrast, London ranked sixth for speed and seventh for availability, giving the capital middle-of-the-pack rankings in two crucial 5G categories.

London’s aggregate 5G median download speed of 124.1Mbps was relatively close to that of Manchester (130.6Mbps), but almost 20Mbps behind Birmingham’s. Although the capital’s aggregate 5G speed was slower than a few smaller cities, speeds in the capital were generally fast, with each operator delivering 5G median download speeds of at least 99.9Mbps.

As well as in the UK’s three fastest 5G cities, EE posted the highest 5G availability in the three biggest cities, too. EE had 5G median download speeds of at least 119.6Mbps while enjoying widespread 5G connectivity. Users of Three 5G in Birmingham have availability of 47.3% and 5G median download speed of 103.6Mbps, meaning that they should be able to download files and stream videos “quickly and easily”, said the analyst.

Virgin Media O2’s “slowest” 5G median download speed in the UK’s three biggest cities was 151.5Mbps, but its users in those areas might have trouble accessing those speeds, because the recently merged operator had 5G availability of 20% or lower in all three of the UK’s biggest cities. However, RootMetrics noted that Virgin Media O2 had shown impressive 5G expansion since the second half of 2020, and that trend could continue.

The study also observed that Vodafone’s solid performance in all three of these cities was topped off by a particularly strong showing in Manchester, where it clocked a 5G median download speed of 140.9Mbps combined with 5G availability of 38.6% (tying for second highest in the city).

“It was a close race at the top of our 5G speed standings in the UK, with less than 1Mbps separating the aggregate 5G speeds of top-ranked Glasgow and second-place Birmingham,” said Patrick Linder, chief marketing officer at RootMetrics by IHS Markit. “Both cities, however, finished with much faster 5G speeds than that of London. The good news is that 5G in the UK is fast in general, and London is no exception. We expect to see greater parity in speed rankings in the future, as well as faster speeds and broader 5G availability going forward.”

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