5G brings uplift in mobile speeds to UK cities, with lesser impact for Londoners

Opensignal has analyzed the experience in 15 of the U.K.’s largest cities and its regions, to see how the improvement our users see with 5G compared to their experience when connected to 4G varies across the country. 

Our London users see the smallest download speed uplift with 5G over 4G when we compare with other cities and regions. However, out of all the U.K.’s regions, London comes top for the proportion of time our 5G users spend with an active 5G connection — 5G Availability. While our urban users see both faster 4G and 5G speeds than rural users and have higher 5G Availability, urban and rural users see similar uplift with 5G.

Our users’ 5G download speeds are 3.7-5.5 times faster than those seen on 4G, with our users in Reading seeing the greatest uplift and those in London observing the least. In four out of 15 cities our users see an uplift of five times or greater, while the uplift is lower than four times in only two cities — London and Bristol. Average 5G download speeds range from 121.8Mbps in Bristol to 162.7Mbps in Birmingham, while average 4G download speeds range from 27Mbps in Edinburgh to 37.8Mbps in Leicester. As high uplifts are driven by both high 5G download speeds and low 4G download speeds, the fact that London’s 4G Download Speed of 33.6Mbps is toward the high end of this range helps to explain why it is at the bottom of the table for 5G vs 4G Download Speed Improvement.

London remains at the bottom of the pack in terms of 5G download speed uplift when we look across the U.K.’s major regions, with the largest uplift reported by our users in Scotland and Wales, closely followed by those in the North West. Looking at 5G Download Speed, our users in the West Midlands and the North West are statistically tied for the top spot with scores of 150-151.4Mbps. Northern Ireland has the slowest speeds — 98.5Mbps and is the only region/country in the United Kingdom with average 5G download speeds below 100Mbps.

We’ve seen that users in London see the smallest uplift from 5G in terms of download speeds compared to other, more rural, regions. However, there is little difference in the uplift in average download speeds seen by our users in rural and urban areas with 5G — with increases of 4.7 times and 4.5 times, respectively — compared to 4G. 

Our urban users see download speeds on both 5G and 4G that are significantly faster than their rural counterparts — by 20.1 Mbps (17.6%) and 5.8 Mbps (23.7%), respectively. 

In addition, urban 5G users spend far more of their time with an active 5G connection (9.6%) than rural users (6.6%). This matters a great deal as users can only experience the increased speeds they see with 5G when they are connected to 5G. For this analysis, we have segmented our rural and urban users based on Urban Morphological Zones, as defined by the European Environment Agency.

A similar pattern plays out across the U.K.’s regions. London is at the top of the chart for 5G Availability with an impressive score of 15.9%. Our London users’ score is around 6.7 percentage points ahead of the four regions that statistically tie for second place: Yorkshire and Humber, North West, West Midlands and East Midlands. As with 5G Download Speed, Northern Ireland is at the back of the pack where it statistically ties with the South West for last place.

While we have highlighted the gap between rural and urban users’ mobile experience in this analysis, work is ongoing to improve rural mobile connectivity. One example is the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, through which mobile network operators and the U.K. government are working to increase the country’s 4G geographic coverage. According to Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2022 UK report, 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 U.K., up from 91.9% in 2021. Ofcom has recently analysed data from Opensignal to help judge the quality of service across the UK.

Look out for Opensignal’s next mobile network experience report on the U.K. in April 2023, in which we’ll directly compare our users’ experience on the country’s four national operators — both in terms of their overall experience and their experience when connected to 5G. If you can’t wait until then, please read the September 2022 report.