Germany and the UK can't wait for 5G to improve the mobile network experience

Peter Boyland, Senior Analyst

There's been a fair bit in the press recently about the decline of Northwest Europe's traditional mobile powerhouses. In particular, leading business groups have singled out Germany and the U.K. as their mobile networks seem to be falling behind the rest of the continent. In Opensignal's recent report on the 5G opportunity, our measurements showed both countries' average 4G Download Speeds were behind Italy, Portugal and Greece.

Part of the reason for the slower mobile experience we've observed in Germany and the U.K. is the relative strength of their incumbent mobile operators, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone. Opensignal's analysis has found these two leading multi-country operators offered a faster experience to their mobile users in markets outside of their country of origin (unlike Spain's Telefónica).

When we compared average Download and Upload Speed Experience for Vodafone in its key European markets, we found the U.K. was firmly in the bottom half of the table, below markets like Romania and Hungary. Notably, Germany was at the base of Vodafone's table, with slower speeds than Greece.

But do Germany's mobile users fare better under their incumbent Deutsche Telekom? Our analysis shows Germany is third in seven of Telekom's key European markets. It's not surprising to see the Netherlands at the the top of Telekom's table — but our measurements show the operator also provides a considerably better average Download Speed Experience in Hungary than it does in its home market, while the German experience is on a par with Slovakia.

In our analysis of Telefónica's European operations, we found that Movistar Spain topped the table in both our Download and Upload Speed Experience metrics. Germany and the U.K. were some way behind — in fact O2 UK's average download speed was less than half of its counterpart in Spain in our measurements.

So what's the reason for these relatively poor mobile broadband speeds in Germany and the U.K.? It certainly isn't market maturity or competition, as both countries have had mobile networks for decades and levels of competition, numbers of operators, etc. are comparable with their neighbours. Topographically, both countries have challenges in terms of size and population density, but no more than, say, Italy or Spain. It would be easy to blame poor performance on underinvestment in network infrastructure, but the reality is a combination of many factors including regulation, availability of spectrum, and mergers and acquisitions among network operators.

The fact remains that Germany and the U.K. are punching well under their weight in terms of mobile network speeds. Both countries are on the verge of 5G launches, but it is likely to be some years before the benefits of these new networks are felt by most mobile users. And there is growing discontent among the business community in Germany, with claims that poor broadband speeds are hindering economic growth. Germany and the U.K. may not be able to wait for the 5G opportunity, as their operators urgently need to make improvements in their mobile network experience today.

For more on the 5G opportunity and how the technology will ease the pressure on 4G, please check out our recent report. And feel free to follow Opensignal on Twitter!