UK 5G operators make strides in first half of 2022

Latest analysis by Ookla-owned mobile network performance measurement firm RootMetrics finds UK 5G market in fine fettle, particularly as regards download speeds, latency reliability and availability

UK mobile consumers are reaping the benefit of the nation’s mobile operators’ rush to invest in 5G infrastructure, according to the latest RootMetrics UK mobile performance review, with network providers delivering “outstanding” 5G reliability with latency low enough for smooth gaming and streaming.

Examining the state of 5G in Britain over the first half of 2022, the study highlighted how competition between EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone was improving the experiences of next-generation network users in the UK, with all four of the major UK mobile operators improving the download speeds, reliability and latency of their networks.

Testing for the report was carried out using Samsung 5G-enabled handsets available from retailers to accurately reflect the experience of consumers using 4G LTE and 5G networks. RootMetrics assessed all network technologies with 642,296 tests UK-wide, across the four nations and within 16 major metropolitan areas.

In May 2022, three years after switching on its next-generation mobile infrastructure, EE’s 5G network became the first to cover 50% of the UK.

EE remained the leader in UK-wide, nationwide and metropolitan testing in the first half of the year. The operator won all seven UK-wide RootScore categories, including the UK Overall RootScore Award for the ninth year in a row.

In the nation-specific categories, EE earned 25 UK Nation RootScore Awards out of a possible 28 and delivered the fastest aggregate median download speed in each of the four UK nations. 

In the 16 metropolitan areas, EE won the most RootScore Awards (111 total awards out of 112 opportunities), but all four operators performed well in general, particularly on 5G.

Even though EE took leadership position in fifth percentile speeds for 5G – what RootMetrics noted was an important measure of an operator’s overall speed consistency – the gap between EE and its rivals was found to be narrowing.

While all networks showed improvement to 5G availability and speed in multiple cities, Three UK and Vodafone were said to have stood out for delivering faster 5G speeds and higher availability in nearly every city tested in the first half of 2022.  

Across the 16 metropolitan areas, Three UK saw significant gains in 5G download speeds, and both Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone utilised newly acquired spectrum to boost 5G availability and speeds. Three UK edged ahead of EE in 5G median download speeds, clocking in at nearly 200Mbps, compared with the 150Mbps recorded by EE.

Three UK’s 5G availability results were similar to EE’s, with both networks recording 5G availability approaching 50% during UK-wide testing, compared with approximately 35% for both Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone.

Just after announcing in May 2022 that it would turn off its 3G network by the end of 2024 to focus its investments and spectrum resources on further improving 4G customer experience and rolling out 5G, Three UK said it had overtaken rival EE in population coverage for 5G in the UK, available in more than 400 locations across more than 3,000 sites covering over 54% of the UK’s population.

Virgin Media O2 delivered what the RootMetrics UK Mobile Performance Review described as “excellent” text results, ranking first or second in all four nations, and Three UK performed especially well in Wales, sharing the Call RootScore Award and posting second-place finishes for both reliability and text performance in the country.

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