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RootMetrics delivers 5G report card on the top 4 MNOs in the UK

RootMetrics 5G report.
(Image credit: RootMetrics.)

RootMetrics by IHS Markit has published its latest 5G in the UK report, which delivers key data and insights on 5G availability and speed in 16 of the UK’s biggest cities, with a focus on 5G performance in Greater and central London.

The new 5G research from RootMetrics found that 5G median download speeds in the UK hit 216.6 Mbps on Vodafone’s network in London, whilst EE was the best provider of 5G availability across London, with 40% in Greater London and 83% in the centre.

Customers of the four major 5G networks in the UK – EE, 02, Three, and Vodafone – will be pleased to hear that 5G services in the UK have improved since initial deployments, with speeds and availability increasing. But the report found some key differences between major providers, and below is an overview of how each operator fared.

EE: widespread 5G availability and fast speeds

According to RootMetrics, EE 5G performance was “strong in general, offering the highest 5G availability in 15 of the 16 cities tested with consistently fast 5G speeds”. EE delivered 5G availability of over 25% in 12 cities, which was the highest figure for any operator.

"EE was the only operator whose median download speeds surpassed 30Mbps in all 16 cities."

RootMetrics report.

“As end users won’t access 5G all the time, testing EE’s overall median download speeds across all network technologies (5G and 4G LTE) offers a more accurate picture of consumers’ real-world experience,” the report stated. “Across all technology types, EE was the only operator whose median download speeds surpassed 30 Mbps in all 16 cities, and in 12 of those markets it registered speeds above 50 Mbps, by far the most of any operator. If EE users are unable to access 5G in a particular area, they should nevertheless be able to rapidly download or stream content.”

O2: consistently fast speeds, but overall availability limited

RootMetric’s research found that O2 5G coverage went from four cities in the first half of 2020, to 11 by the end of 2020. And 02’s 5G median download speeds were high, clocking in at 100Mbps in 10 cities. However, on a more negative note, “O2 was the only operator which failed to register 5G availability above 25% in any city”.

"While O2’s 5G was clearly fast, its relatively low availability is likely to negatively impact the end-user experience.”

RootMetrics report.

“The majority of O2’s overall median download speeds were less than 30 Mbps, and O2 was the only provider to register overall median download speeds under 10Mbps in any city,” the RootMetrics report explained. “While O2’s 5G was clearly fast, its relatively low availability is likely to negatively impact the end-user experience.”

Three: a growing 5G footprint and fast speeds, but low availability

The Three 5G footprint improved in the second half of 2020, according to RootMetrics, with 5G recorded in all 16 cities tested, up from 11 in the first half of 2020. But 5G availability was comparatively low, going over 25% in just two cities. However, speeds were generally positive, with its lowest 5G speed never dropping below 79.1Mbps.

“In terms of overall speed, Three’s results were broadly in line with those from the first half of 2020."

RootMetrics report.

“In terms of overall speed, Three’s results were broadly in line with those from the first half of 2020,” said RootMetrics. “Most of its overall median download speeds were recorded in the 10-20 Mbps range, topping out at 27.8 Mbps in Birmingham. Like O2, Three’s fast 5G speeds but low availability are likely to leave users experiencing slower speeds across the network as a whole.”

Vodafone: fastest 5G in London

Vodafone 5G was one of only two operators to provide overall median download speeds faster than 50Mbps in any city (two in total), but it was London where Vodafone stood out, with 216.6Mbps recorded as the highest 5G median download speed of all four providers.

“Like O2 and Three, Vodafone’s overall speeds are expected to get faster and more consistent as its 5G network expands.”

RootMetrics report.

“The carrier also showed strong results at the slower end of the speed spectrum, registering overall speeds between 10-20 Mbps in four fewer cities than it did in 1H 2020,” RootMetrics said. “Like O2 and Three, Vodafone’s overall speeds are expected to get faster and more consistent as its 5G network expands.”

A model for 5G in the UK

If London can be taken as a model for how 5G will eventually roll out across the UK, the picture looks good, with 5G speeds across London being excellent for all four providers. Each operator registered a 5G median download speed of at least 114.7 Mbps, and 5G speeds were significantly faster than those on 4G LTE in Greater London. 

“The 5G landscape in the UK continues to develop, with all four major operators delivering impressive download speeds on 5G,” said Kevin Hasley, chief executive officer at RootMetrics. “Some operators offer better 5G availability than others, but availability as a whole has clearly improved since our previous testing in the first half of 2020.”

To access the latest ‘5G in the UK’ report from RootMetrics, click here.  

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.