O2, Three and Vodafone eating into EE’s 4G market, says RootMetrics

A comprehensive survey of the UK 4G market reveals that O2, Three and Vodafone are steadily catching up with sector leader EE

Mobile network operator (MNO) EE may have stolen a march on its rivals when it came to market first with 4G mobile services, but a new report from RootMetrics has revealed the pack is swiftly closing the gap.

In its first ever report specifically covering 4G networks, RootMetrics found upgrades from O2, Three and Vodafone were beginning to have a significant impact on the market in terms of competition and user choice.

RootMetrics conducted a number of tests in the UK’s 16 most populous urban areas, and according to its data as of the end of 2014, EE had a median 4G footprint rate of 79.3%, Vodafone 58.2%, O2 52.7% and Three 24.8%.

EE offered 4G services in all 16 markets tested, including a 92.9% footprint in Belfast – the most connected area found – while O2 and Vodafone offered 4G in 13 out of the 16 cities, with their footprint rates never exceeding 72%. Three, by contrast, offered service in 14 markets, but struggled to get its footprint above 44% in any of them.

It found reliability for all operators was strong, with success rates for making a connection and keeping it often nearing 100%.

Belfast gets zippiest network

On download speeds, EE remained ahead with a maximum speed of 94.1Mbps in Belfast, while O2 hit a maximum of 64.7Mbps in London, slightly ahead of Vodafone. Three customers got the fastest downloads in Sheffield, where its network hit 50Mbps.

Read more about 4G

Median download speeds, which provide a more meaningful indication of what the average user can expect, were over 20Mbps on EE in 12 of 16 markets, with O2 and Vodafone close behind and Three trailing somewhat. Where 4G was not available, Three performed best at 7.3Mbps, recorded in Belfast, while O2 never passed 3Mbps.

The analysts also included a market-by-market breakdown, which showed that London enjoyed the strongest overall combination of 4G footprints, reliability and speed. Hull, on the other hand, performed worst.

“We have seen some startlingly fast speeds in pockets of the UK and overall median speeds are substantially higher than 3G. What is even more encouraging is the reliability of services once customers are on 4G,” said RootMetrics CEO Bill Moore.

“The growing footprint of each network means as more customers are able to access 4G, they will be able to consistently access all the benefits 4G brings,” he said.

High costs and no benefits?

RootMetrics’ survey comes hot-on-the-heels of a report from Vodafone, in which the MNO bemoaned perceived high costs and a lack of understanding of the benefits that 4G could bring to businesses for discouraging take-up among business customers.

In its full-year results statement Vodafone went on to reveal that only 13% of its European mobile customers were using 4G services.

EE swiftly responded by telling its rival to make more of an effort, claiming that 74% of its small business customers are now using 4G in the UK.

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