State of Mobile Networks: UK (April 2018)

Little may have in changed on OpenSignal's awards table in the six months since our last look at the U.K.’s mobile market, but we definitely see the U.K., as a whole, moving forward. 4G availability in the country is improving, with two operators now having passed the 80% milestone. Meanwhile our regional analysis revealed some interesting extremes, with the capital London racking up both the best and worst overall download speeds. Drawing on 890 million data samples collected by 61,000 OpenSignal users between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, we put the U.K. under the network microscope, examining the 3G and 4G performance of its four nationwide operators.


The UK's 4G networks grow up as 3 operators approach 80% availability

The road to 4G has been relatively slow in the U.K. But access to LTE signals is accelerating. Our measurements show that at the end of February two operators had passed the 80% 4G availability milestone – EE with 86.6% and O2 on 83.4% – while Vodafone was on the cusp at 79.5%.

EE continues to dominate the OpenSignal awards table

EE continues to lead in all OpenSignal award categories, winning outright in 4G speed, 3G speed, overall speed and 4G availability, while the operator tied with Vodafone in the 4G and 3G latency categories. These results closely mirrored our winners in our September report, with the only difference then being that EE shared the 3G speed award with 3.

Despite mediocre growth in 4G speeds, some impressive increases in overall speed

LTE speeds held relatively steady in the U.K., with no one operator showing an increase of more than 1.2 Mbps since our last report. However, the steady growth in LTE availability had a knock-on effect on overall download speeds, where our metrics show the four operators increased their everyday speeds by over 2.1 Mbps each.

London had both the best and worst overall speeds in our tests

In this report we have included our most comprehensive metrics to date for the U.K.'s 12 regions, including data on 4G speed, availability and latency, as well as overall speed. In terms of average overall download speed, we measured both the fastest and slowest speeds in London, with EE on 27.4 Mbps and O2 at 8.9 Mbps. Our metrics also show O2 customers received the lowest average 4G speeds in the country in the London region, at 10.2 Mbps.

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.

Regional Performance

This chart shows the regional winners in each category Opensignal measures. Click on the icons to see a more detailed graph showing each operator’s metrics in a particular region.

Legend: O2 Vodafone 3 EE
RegionDownload Speed: 4GDownload Speed: OverallLatency: 4GAvailability: 4G
East Midlands
East of England
North East
North West
Northern Ireland
South East
South West
West Midlands
Yorkshire and Humber

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Could 2018 be the year the U.K.'s 4G networks finally come of age? The country saw its first commercial LTE network launched back in 2012, but since then rollout has been somewhat sluggish. We are seeing some signs of improvement in our latest analysis, though, as operators in a short time have made some impressive leaps in 4G reach. In the latest test period, two of the U.K.'s operators, EE and O2, had crossed the 80% 4G availability milestone, and the average increase across all four operators was 8.8 percentage points since our last Mobile Networks Update: UK report for the country.

For this report, OpenSignal analyzed 890 million measurements collected from 61,121 mobile devices between Dec. 1, 2017 and Feb. 28, 2018. We used that data to compare the 3G and 4G services of the big 4 operators in the U.K. on the national level, and we drilled down into that data on the regional level, examining our 4G and overall speed, 4G availability and 4G latency metrics in the 12 regions. Let's start first by examining 4G availability.

4G availability approaches the 80% milestone

Two of the U.K.'s operators have crossed the 80% threshold in our availability metric: EE with 86.6%, up 8 percentage points since our last report in September, and O2 with 83.7%, up more than 9 percentage points. The U.K.'s smallest operator 3 also grew its 4G availability score by more than 9 percentage points to 66.6% in our tests, while Vodafone grew 8 percentage points to 79.5%.

LTE has taken a while to grow in the U.K. This is due to relatively strong 3G networks, meaning there was less rush to rollout 4G, whilst strong competition and falling average revenue per user (ARPU) have muted investment. 3 recently announced their annual ARPU in 2017 fell over 6% compared to the previous year, part of a trend that has been apparent in U.K. telecoms for some years now. But it seems the U.K. may finally be shedding its reputation for poor 4G access.

In terms of 4G speed, EE continued to dominate with average download speeds of 29 Mbps, followed by 3 with 22.6 Mbps, Vodafone on 20.1 Mbps, and O2 with 15.2 Mbps in our measurements. There was little change in these speeds since our last report six months ago, with the average increase over all four operators being just 0.38%. As is often the case with maturing mobile markets, the U.K's networks are coming under pressure from increasing numbers of users moving from 3G to 4G, while larger data bundles and unlimited offers are driving consumer data consumption.

Nevertheless, in our overall download speed metric, which factors in the combined speeds of operators' 3G and 4G networks and the level of access to each technology, the U.K. continued to improve. EE led the pack by a fairly large distance, with average tested speeds of 25.6 Mbps, an increase of 2.5% since our last reporting period. 3 and Vodafone were neck-and-neck, both on 16.7 Mbps in our results, with O2 bringing up the rear with 13.2 Mbps. All the operators had increased their overall download speed results in the past six months, with 3, EE and Vodafone all seeing boosts close to 2.5%.

EE remains dominant across the regions, but O2 is challenging

Our latest U.K. report includes measurements on 4G speed, overall speed, and 4G availability and latency for the 12 regions in the country. The metrics show that EE is largely dominant across all four categories, but the BT-owned operator faces a notable challenge from O2 in terms of 4G availability in some regions. The Telefónica subsidiary proved particularly strong in the north and west, tying with EE in the North East, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Yorkshire and Humber for our regional availability awards.

However, in the London region, it's a case of the best of times, the worst of times for the U.K.'s mobile network users. We recorded the U.K.'s highest 4G availability score of 89.1% on EE in London, beating both O2 and Vodafone who had availability scores of just over 84%. The city saw both the spring of hope and the winter of despair in speed. London claimed the fastest average overall speeds in the U.K. according to our measurements, at 27.4 Mbps on EE's network, while O2 could only manage 8.8 Mbps in the city. EE won our overall speed awards outright in 11 out of 12 of the U.K.'s regions, while it tied with 3 in the North East. The slowest average 4G speed we recorded was also in London on O2 at 10.2 Mbps, but the fastest 4G download average in the regions went to 3 in the North East at 31.3 Mbps, according to our measurements.

The UK's LTE lags behind on the world stage

In terms of speed, the U.K. fell to mid-table in our latest global State of LTE report. The U.K.'s average 4G speed of 23.1 Mbps was below less developed mobile markets such as Armenia and Mexico. Meanwhile the U.K.'s average 4G availability of 77.3% landed it higher in our LTE access rankings, though it was still far from joining the elite countries such as South Korea, Japan and the U.S. in 4G availability. However, all four U.K. operators have seen significant increases in their availability since our last State of LTE report was published, meaning it's pretty likely the country score will improve in our next global LTE study.

The U.K.'s 4G networks may be improving, but the country has some way to go before it catches up with its European neighbours. The U.K. came in 29th out of 36 European countries in our 4G download speed metric in a recent analysis of European 4G performance, and 19th in terms of 4G availability – fairly disappointing placings for the country ranked 23rd most wealthy in the world in the latest IMF GDP rankings.

Despite the recent improvements we have tracked in our metrics, the U.K. regulator still doesn't feel operators have gone far enough in their 4G rollout, especially when it comes to coverage of underserved regions. The latest figures from regulator Ofcom, published in December, show 4G geographical coverage – where a signal is available from all four mobile operators - is currently available across just 43% of the U.K. It is important to note that Ofcom's figure refers to geographical coverage, and as such doesn't reflect actual user experience. That's a substantially different measure from our availability metric, which accounts for how often users have access to an LTE signal no matter where they happen to be.

With one eye on the upcoming 5G spectrum auction, Ofcom is becoming increasingly vocal about the need for improvement in country's 4G networks. The U.K.'s operators need to maintain investment if they hope to meet this need, and the country hopes to catch up with its European peers.

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, 890,213,316 datapoints were collected from 61,121 users during the period: 2017-12-01 - 2018-02-28.

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.