4G Nation

4G is changing the game for both consumers and operators: EE leads but upgrades from other networks point toward a tightening race. Here we take a brief look at the 4G landscape in the UK.

In its first-ever report looking specifically at 4G services, RootMetrics found that networks have made impressive progress building a 4G footprint across the UK, increasing the opportunity for mobile consumers to enjoy much faster speeds with great reliability. EE’s early start on 4G service continues to have an impact, with EE offering the largest 4G footprint and the fastest speeds. But 4G upgrades from the other networks are starting to have a significant impact. Impressive performances and expanding 4G coverage from O2 and Vodafone point toward increased competition between operators and greater choice for consumers in the UK.

EE led the way when looking at 4G footprint. When looking at results across all markets, EE had a median 4G footprint rate of 79.3%. Keep in mind that this UK-wide footprint rate doesn’t necessarily mean that a consumer has a 79.3% chance of accessing 4G everywhere—rates vary between individual markets, with some metros having more 4G available than others. Vodafone offered a median 4G footprint across all markets of 58.2%, with O2 at 52.7%, and Three at 24.8%.

When looking at 4G footprints in individual markets, EE offered 4G service in all 16 markets tested by RootMetrics, including a 92.9% footprint in Belfast. O2 and Vodafone each offered 4G service in 13 of the markets tested, with 4G footprint rates never exceeding 72% in any market. Three offered 4G service in 14 markets but often recorded smaller 4G footprints, with rates of 4G coverage never exceeding 44% in any market.

RootMetrics performs a wide variety of tests to measure a network’s reliability. For this report, the company used reliability during web/app activity as a proxy for holistic network reliability. Mobile internet reliability is built out of a combination of being able to connect to a network and then stay connected until your task is complete. Reliability for all operators when on 4G was strong. When 4G was available, success rates for making a connection and then staying connected often neared 100% for all operators. Keep in mind that a large 4G footprint is key for taking advantage of these fantastic 4G reliability rates.

Maximum speeds point toward the highest capability available for each network. From this perspective, EE remains ahead of the other operators. EE recorded a maximum download speed of 94.1 Mbps in Belfast. O2 recorded its fastest maximum download speed of 64.7 Mbps in London. Vodafone’s fastest maximum download speed was 64.5 Mbps, recorded in both Belfast and London. Meanwhile, Three’s maximum download speed of 50 Mbps was recorded in Sheffield.

Though maximum speeds show a network’s full potential, median speeds are more impactful on everyday activity. The 4G median download speeds RootMetrics found offer consumers an entirely different experience than when not on 4G. EE recorded median speeds above 20 Mbps in 12 of 16 markets. O2 and Vodafone also recorded impressive median download speeds and could be closing the gap with EE. Three’s 4G speeds trailed those of the other networks.

When 4G is not available, Three performed strongly and recorded its fastest median download speed of 7.3 Mbps in Belfast. In comparison, EE’s fastest median download speed when not on 4G was 4.9 Mbps in Glasgow. O2 never passed 3 Mbps, and Vodafone only exceeded 3 Mbps once (in Manchester).

RootMetrics also has included a market-by-market breakdown of test results. Amongst other results, the results show that Londoners enjoy a strong combination of 4G footprints, reliability, and speed. Hull residents, on the other hand, do not have nearly the same access to 4G and its benefits.

Tests were conducted during the second half of 2014, with the four major networks tested side-by-side in the 16 populous metros, covering 50% of the population in the UK. Results provide an accurate insight into the progress networks are making in deploying 4G spectrum.

“2014 was the first year in the UK when all the major networks were providing 4G services, and it appears each has had its success in deploying services across the country,” said RootMetrics CEO and President Bill Moore. “We have seen some startlingly fast speeds in pockets of the UK and overall median speeds are substantially higher than 3G. What is even more encouraging is the reliability of services once customers are on 4G. The growing footprint of each network means as more customers are able to access 4G, they will be able to consistently access all the benefits 4G brings.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine