5G takes its intended place in UK mobile

Study from specialist network analyst finds mobile games and video users’ experience over 5G is more consistent and drops less at busy hours of the day than when using 4G infrastructures

In what is a clear indication of the mass roll-out and adoption of the next-generation infrastructure, when it comes to three key measures of experience – average download speeds, streaming mobile video and playing multiplayer mobile games – mobile users across the UK now always have a superior experience on 5G than on 4G, Opensignal research has found.

The study by the specialist network analyst investigated UK mobile users’ experience in terms of the drop in their scores for average download speeds, video experience and games experience, expressed as the percentage decline from the time of day when users observed the best experience. In all cases, this was the three-hour period from 03:00 to 06:00.

Overall, users’ 5G download speeds were found to be on average 3.9-4.3 times faster than 4G across the three-hour periods of day Opensignal analysed. The study revealed that 5G games and video experience drops by much less than the 4G experience in the afternoon and evening when networks tend to be busy. 5G video experience drops by around 6% in the afternoon and evening on average, against the daily peak, compared with a fall of around 13% for 4G. Similarly, between 09:00 and 21:00. 5G games experience drops by around 10% from its early morning peak, while a larger drop of approximately 16% is seen for 4G.

Opensignal discovered a different pattern when examining users’ average download speeds. 4G speeds fell by a similar amount to 5G across most of the day, and in all 4G appeared to be slightly more resilient than 5G in the morning and afternoon. However, users on both mobile network generations see their lowest average speeds between the hours of 06:00 and 21:00.

Looking to offer reasons for the video and games experience trend, Opensignal noted that 5G services add a great deal of new spectrum capacity, especially in the 3.5GHz band, which makes 5G more able to cope with increased usage at busy hours of the day. However, it stressed that there were other factors at work that could likely explain the different dynamic on download speeds.

Principally, it observed that UK operators have different amounts of new 5G spectrum, with Three UK able to use a 100MHz 5G channel and it has a further 40MHz of similar mid-band 5G spectrum available. By comparison, Vodafone UK, EE and O2 have approximately half that amount. However, Opensignal added that if other parts of the network, for example the backhaul links to each cell site, are congested due to rising 5G adoption this can damage users’ experience even if there is ample 5G radio spectrum.

Looking deeper into each individual operator’s 5G performance, the study found Three UK users observing the fastest average 5G download speeds across all hours of the day, compared with users on other operators, but they also saw the greatest reduction in speed during busy times compared to the early morning 03:00 to 06:00 peak. Between noon and midnight, Three UK users’ speeds were measured as being 23.5-29.9% lower than their daily peak, compared with 16.7-21.5% for EE, 13.3-22.1% for O2 and 19.5-24.4% for Vodafone.

Opensignal noted that the relatively high fall in speeds Three UK users see on 5G and 4G is not surprising. Three UK recently announced that its users on average consume 25.1GB of mobile data per month – 3.5 times more mobile data than the UK industry average. EE users observed the fastest average 4G download speeds across all hours of the day. There is a clear split in terms of congestion, with EE and Vodafone users seeing relatively small declines from the speeds seen in the early morning during peak hours compared with O2 and Three UK users.

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