London not calling in UK 4G to 5G mobile uplifts

Study shows mobile users in London see the smallest uplift from 5G in terms of download speeds compared with more rural regions, but also that there is little difference in the uplift in average download speeds seen by users in rural and urban areas with 5G compared with 4G

To many in the UK living outside of the capital, London seems to be the constant winner in terms of infrastructure and services, but research has found London mobile users see the smallest download speed uplift with 5G over 4G when compared with other cities and regions.

In its study, insights and data integrating network experience firm Opensignal analysed the mobile experience in 15 of the UK’s largest cities and its regions, to see how the improvement users see with 5G compared with their experience when connected to 4G varies across the country. It found that while urban users generally saw both faster 4G and 5G speeds than rural users and have higher 5G availability, urban and rural users see similar uplift with 5G.

In general, 5G download speeds were measured at 3.7-5.5 times faster than those seen on 4G, with users in Reading seeing the greatest uplift and those in London observing the least. In four out of 15 cities, Opensignal saw an uplift of five times or greater, while the uplift was lower than four times in only two cities, namely London and Bristol. Average 5G download speeds ranged from 121.8Mbps in Bristol to 162.7Mbps in Birmingham, while average 4G download speeds ranged from 27Mbps in Edinburgh to 37.8Mbps in Leicester.

Noting that as high uplifts are driven by both high 5G download speeds and low 4G download speeds, Opensignal said the fact that London’s 4G download speed of 33.6Mbps was towards the high end of this range helped to explain why it was at the bottom of the table for 5G versus 4G download speed improvement.

London also remained at the bottom of the pack in terms of 5G download speed uplift when looking across the UK’s major regions, with the largest uplift reported by users in Scotland and Wales, closely followed by those in the North West. Looking at 5G download speed, users in the West Midlands and the North West were statistically tied for the top spot, with scores of 150-151.4Mbps. Northern Ireland had the slowest speeds, at 98.5Mbps, and was the only region/country in the UK with average 5G download speeds below 100Mbps.

Digging deeper, Opensignal observed users in London seeing the smallest uplift from 5G in terms of download speeds compared with other, more rural, regions. However, the study highlighted that there was little difference in the uplift in average download speeds seen by users in rural and urban areas with 5G – with increases of 4.7 times and 4.5 times, respectively – compared with 4G. Urban users saw download speeds on both 5G and 4G that were significantly faster than their rural counterparts – by 20.1Mbps (17.6%) and 5.8Mbps (23.7%), respectively.

Investigating availability, out of all of the UK’s regions, London came out top for the proportion of time 5G users spend with an active 5G connection. In addition, all urban 5G users spent far more of their time with an active 5G connection (9.6%) than rural users (6.6%). This, said Opensignal, mattered a great deal, as users can only experience the increased speeds they see with 5G when they are connected to 5G. For this analysis, Opensignal segmented rural and urban users based on Urban Morphological Zones, as defined by the European Environment Agency.

A similar pattern was seen to be playing out across the UK’s regions. London was at the top of the chart for 5G availability with a score of 15.9%, around 6.7 percentage points ahead of the four regions that statistically tied for second place: Yorkshire and Humber, North West, West Midlands and East Midlands. As with 5G download speed, Northern Ireland was at the back of the pack, where it statistically tied with the South West for last place.

While highlighting the gap between rural and urban users’ mobile experience in its analysis, Opensignal stressed that work was ongoing to improve rural mobile connectivity. It cited the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme. According to the Connected nations 2022 UK report from comms regulator Ofcom, due to the SRN’s actions and operators’ individual initiatives, good mobile coverage from at least one operator is available across 92.2% of the UK, up from 91.9% in 2021.

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