State of Mobile Networks: UK (April 2017)

LTE signals aren't the rare commodity in the U.K. they once were. In our latest analysis of the U.K. mobile data experience, OpenSignal and Which? found significant improvements in 4G availability, meaning consumers have more access to 4G connections than ever before. Parsing more than half a billion measurements, OpenSignal and Which? compared 3G and 4G connections on the U.K.'s four major operators to see just how far their mobile data services have progressed.


The U.K. gets a big bump in LTE availability

We found LTE signals more often and in more places in our last round of U.K. tests. For the longest time the U.K. has provided decent 4G speeds, but limited LTE accessibility. Our latest results show that times are changing.

EE ranks highest in all our 4G metrics

As in our last report, EE ran the gamut of our 4G awards. EE became the first U.K. operator to pass the 70% LTE signal availability threshold in our tests. We also recorded a 4 Mbps improvement in its 4G speed measurements.

Overall speeds benefit from boosted 4G reach

As 4G availability improves in the U.K., the typical speeds available to consumers are also on the rise. Our users were able to find 4G signals more often, which means they were spending less time connected to slower 3G networks.

3 is losing its speed edge as O2 and Vodafone improve

3 has always done well in our overall speed metrics due to the strength of its 3G and 4G tests. But as O2 and Vodafone see their 4G availability scores improve, 3 is losing its advantage. Our users are connecting to fast O2 and Vodafone 4G signals more often, boosting their typical mobile data connection speeds.

Opensignal Awards Table

Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: 3G Download Speed: Overall Latency: 4G Latency: 3G Availability: 4G




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Performance by Metric

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by Opensignal users.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by Opensignal users.

Download Speed: Overall

This metric shows the average download speed experienced by Opensignal users across all of an operator's 3G and 4G networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE availability tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend more time connected to slower 3G networks.

Latency: 4G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by Opensignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Latency: 3G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by Opensignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Availability: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time Opensignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.


At first glance not much would have appeared to have changed from this to our last State of Mobile Networks report for the U.K. The awards charts from both reports look almost exactly the same. While the absolute rankings of our four operators may not have shifted, a closer look at the data reveals 4G improvements across the board. We were able to find LTE signals significantly more often on all four operators. Not only does that show LTE's reach is growing, that increased 4G access means the typical mobile data speed experienced by UK consumers is on the rise.

For our new State of Mobile Networks report, OpenSignal partnered with consumer watchdog Which? to parse more than 535 million datapoints collected by 30,793 U.K. smartphone users between Dec. 1, 2016 and Feb. 28, 2017. We examined the experience of those users on the 3G and 4G networks of the U.K.'s four nationwide operators: Hutchison's 3, EE, Telefónica's O2 and Vodafone. We found that the U.K. is shedding its reputation for providing poor access to 4G signals, while maintaining its relatively fast LTE speeds.

4G's growing impact

Finding an LTE signal in the U.K. is a lot easier than it was six months ago. In our latest round of testing, we saw sizable increases in 4G availability from all four operators. Rather than measure geographic coverage, our availability metric tracks the percentage of time a smartphone user can connect to a particular network. Our 4G availability award goes to EE as our testers were able to tap its LTE network 72.4% of the time.

O2 and Vodafone also enjoyed big boosts in the availability category. Six months ago our users were only able to get an LTE signal on either operator in roughly six out of every 10 attempts. In our latest tests, though, O2 had a 4G availability score of 69%, while Vodafone's metric was 67.7%. 3 came in last place in our availability rankings as our testers on its 4G service were only able to find an LTE connection half the time, but its score improved by 6 percentage points in six months.

While we saw all of the operators extend their 4G reach considerably, LTE speeds held steady. The biggest improvement in LTE speeds we recorded came from EE. Our testers were able to make EE 4G connections at an average speed of 31.8 Mbps, which was nearly 4 Mbps faster than our measurements from last summer. Our results show that 3 dropped by a megabit in LTE speed between reports, though 3 still came in second in our 4G speed rankings with an average download connection of 23 Mbps in our tests. Our LTE speed measurements for O2 dropped slightly as well, while our download results for Vodafone held steady at 18 Mbps.

The bigger picture

There was little change in our 3G results between reports. 3 again won our 3G award, averaging HSPA download speeds of 6.5 Mbps, while we measured average 3G speeds greater than 4 Mbps from the remaining operators.

But overall speed — which is a measure of the typical speed experienced across an operator's 3G and 4G networks — is where we saw some of our most interesting results. EE's overall speed measurements continued to outpace its competitors as both its 4G availability and 4G speed scores grew. Our users measured overall speed on EE at 23.6 Mbps, almost twice that measured on the other operators. In overall speed we're also starting to see the impact of Vodafone and O2's improvements in 4G availability. As our users start finding Vodafone's 4G signals more often, its overall speed results have become nearly level with 3's. O2 is still in last place in our rankings for this metric, but with an average overall speed test result of 11.5 Mbps O2 is starting to close the gap. 3 clearly has both the faster 3G and faster 4G connections in our measurements, but if we continue to see its 4G availability score languish below 50%, it could start losing ground to Vodafone and O2 when it comes to providing a consistently fast mobile data experience.

The final metric we studied was latency, which measures a network's reaction time. A low latency connection means more responsive apps and web browsing. For instance, video and voice communications will experience less lag time over low-latency links than over high-latency ones. EE won our 4G latency award with an average response time of 42.2 milliseconds, while EE tied with Vodafone for our 3G latency award.

Our results in this report clearly show most UK operators are starting to take the availability part of the LTE network equation seriously. In our last State of LTE report published in November, we measured the average 4G availability for U.K. smartphone users at 58%. Three of the U.K.'s four major operators are now well beyond that benchmark. There are still plenty of countries that offer much more consistent access to LTE signals than the U.K., but U.K. operators are making big improvements in a relatively short amount of time.

Our Methodology

Opensignal measures the real-world experience of consumers on mobile networks as they go about their daily lives. We collect 3 billion individual measurements every day from tens of millions of smartphones worldwide.

Our measurements are collected at all hours of the day, every day of the year, under conditions of normal usage, including inside buildings and outdoors, in cities and the countryside, and everywhere in between. By analyzing on-device measurements recorded in the places where subscribers actually live, work and travel, we report on mobile network service the way users truly experience it.

We continually adapt our methodology to best represent the changing experience of consumers on mobile networks and, therefore, comparisons of the results to past reports should be considered indicative only. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data, see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 535,415,861 datapoints were collected from 30,793 users during the period: 2016-12-01 - 2017-02-28.

For every metric we've calculated statistical confidence intervals and plotted them on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric, our measured results are too close to declare a winner in a particular category. In those cases, we show a statistical draw. For this reason, some metrics have multiple operator winners.

Opensignal Limited retains ownership of this report including all intellectual property rights, data, content, graphs & analysis. Reports produced by Opensignal Limited may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed, published for any commercial purpose (including use in advertisements or other promotional content) without prior written consent.