EE is best performing UK 5G operator once again

EE 4G roads
(Image credit: EE)

5G in the UK is showing great promise but consumers and businesses enticed by the speeds on offer should take into account the relative availability of next-generation networks, independent testing has suggested.

RootMetrics once again found EE to be the best-performing network across 16 major cities, with the BT-owned operator coming out on top in every single benchmark tested.

It was the outright winner of overall, reliability, texts, speed, data, and calls and shared the accessibility award with Vodafone. Vodafone itself solidified its number two position, ahead of Three and O2.

Best UK mobile operator

In raw speed terms, EE is the fastest network with a nationwide median download speed of 43Mbps – more than two times more rapid than Vodafone’s 21.1Mbps and more than three times the 13.9Mbps recorded by Three.

However, testing revealed that early 5G networks are a significant upgrade when it comes to transmission rates. O2 recorded a median download speed of 178.9Mbps in Belfast, while Three achieved 137.2Mbps in the Northern Irish capital. EE scored 143.6Mbps in Hull while Vodafone set a speed of 216.6Mbps in London – more than 11 times the average it achieved with 4G alone.

These performances are likely to generate excitement but are tempered by the fact that most users will still rely overwhelmingly on 4G networks – especially since most rollouts are focusing on urban centres in the initial phase.

The scale of EE’s rollout means it has an advantage, having the best availability in all but one of the cities tested. Its highest level was 57% in Nottingham and its lowest level of availability was 19.6%. However, this was still greater than O2’s best score of 17.1% in Hull.

“In the last six months we have witnessed some Herculean efforts from mobile operators to improve their 5G network speeds and availability, while also providing strong performances on 4G LTE, and all while rolling from one lockdown to the next,” said Kevin Hasley, RootMetrics CEO.

“The progress we’ve seen can only be good news for British consumers who will see improvement across the board with 5G but have the unenviable task of deciding when the right time is to invest in a 5G handset.”

“The best advice is look at the data: locally and nationally, on both 5G and 4G LTE, and across the gamut of performance, from speed to reliability to call performance and more. Users are becoming both more demanding and savvier, and we consider it vital that they’re equipped with the most up-to-date and accurate information to allow them to make informed purchasing decisions.”

The suggestion is that 4G speeds remain a more accurate indicator of network performance but the early promise of 5G will increase the average as more sites are built and upgraded.

Businesses will also be aware that enhanced mobile broadband is only one of the benefits of 5G, and that the true value will result from ultra-low latency, greater capacity, and superior reliability and will take time to be realised.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.