Measuring peak speed for UK operators

Today OpenSignal published its first Mobile Networks Update for the U.K., which shows that LTE accessibility is steadily improving across Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Apart from the update on our core mobile data metrics, OpenSignal decided to provide a little bit of extra analysis for this report. Specifically, we're applying our new peak speed metric to the U.K. to examine the optimal experience on 3, EE, O2 and Vodafone's 4G networks.

Before we dive in, I should explain what I mean by peak speed. While OpenSignal's 4G speed metric measures our user’s typical everyday experience, peak speed measures 4G connections at their best — when devices are able to access the full capacity of the network unfettered by congestion or other technical limitations. We calculate average peak speed by examining only the fastest tests we collect from our user community to ensure we're identifying only the most optimized network connections. While peak speed is still an experimental metric, OpenSignal is always looking for new ways to examine our data, and this metric provides us with a different way of measuring the consumer mobile data experience.

Now let's look at the peak speed results for the U.K.:

In our U.K. report, EE had the fastest average LTE speeds, and it turns out it has the highest peak speeds of 136.1 Mbps in our tests. What this means is EE has a very powerful, high-capacity LTE network, and that power is reflected in the typical 4G connection it supplies to its customers on an everyday basis. The surprise, though, is the operator that had the second highest peak speed in our analysis.

We measured average peak speed on Vodafone at 113.3 Mbps, which is significantly higher than 3's peak score of 94.1 Mbps. Yet, in our UK report, 3 had the faster 4G speed average: 22.3 Mbps, compared to Vodafone's 18.9 Mbps. What we're seeing is almost certainly the effects of congestion on Vodafone's network. If we compare peak speeds against average LTE speeds, we find that 3's peaks are about 4 times faster than its average, while Vodafone's peaks are about 6 times than its average. Our testers on 3's network were able to get much closer to the full potential of 3's LTE network. Meanwhile, Vodafone had a very powerful network in our peak speed results, but our users were able to tap into much less of that potential on an everyday basis. Vodafone is a bigger operator than 3 in terms of subscribers, and we could be seeing it affect its results. The more customers there are on a network vying for bandwidth, the more average speeds experienced by those customers slow down.

Finally, O2 had the lowest peak speed of 69.6 Mbps (nearly half that of EE's) in our analysis, which is an indication of more limited LTE resources. The good news is that O2 seems to be managing those resources well. It's peak speeds were about 4.5 times faster than its average tested 4G speed of 15.1 Mbps. O2 may not have a lot of capacity compared to its competitors, but it's able to consistently deliver that capacity to its customers, according to our data.

We'd love to hear about your own experiences with peak speed in the U.K. If you're an OpenSignal user, what's the fastest speed you've measured on 3, EE, O2 or Vodafone's networks? How do these speeds compare your everyday mobile data experience? Post the results in the comments section below or share them with us on Twitter. If you're not an OpenSignal tester we highly encourage you to become one by downloading the OpenSignal or Meteor app.