The fastest UK 5G speed provider may not be a shock to many

EE 4G roads
(Image credit: EE)

Two separate studies into network performance in the UK made for pleasant reading for EE, which was found to offer the best balance of 5G speed and availability in parts of the North and Midlands of England, and to deliver the most consistent mobile experience across the country.

RootMetrics periodically tests the 5G services of all four major operators – EE, O2, Three, Vodafone – in 16 major UK cities and releases the findings in the form of ‘scoreboards’, featuring four cities each time, every six months.

This latest scorecard focused on Coventry, Leeds and Bradford, Nottingham and Sheffield, offering a snapshot of the state of 5G in each city. The report found that although speeds are increasing, availability gains have stalled.

Best UK mobile operator

EE recorded the best 5G availability in three of the four cities, coming close in the other one, but its percentage was actually lower than six months ago. However, speeds did show some signs of improvement. In Nottingham, the BT-owned operator recorded a combination of 59.4% availability and 5G median download speed of 167.8Mbps.

Three posted improved speeds in three of the four cities and paired this with decent speeds. It also performed well in Nottingham, achieving 46.9% availability and median download speeds of 99.8Mbps. Along with EE, it was one of only two operators to have 5G availability above 40% but just like EE, its availability decreased in two cities since the first half of 2021.

Virgin Media also posted consistently strong speed and improving availability, but Vodafone was the only operator to improve in both categories in every city. Nottingham was also the scene for some impressive results and Vodafone’s speed of 255.8Mbps here was the fastest in any of the four cities tested.  

RootMetrics says the findings show that all four operators are making progress in their respective rollouts.

“Our latest data shows that the 5G market in the UK is intensely competitive, and no operator can afford to rest on its laurels,” declared Patrick Linder, Chief Marketing Officer at RootMetrics. “The good news for consumers is that speeds have continued to improve, and with the operators adding new spectrum resources at auction earlier this year, we’ll likely see broader availability and better speeds going forward.”

Meanwhile Tutela’s UK State of Mobile Experience report looked to provide an indication of mobile experience across all technologies. Whereas RootMetrics’ findings are based on professional testing, Tutela’s results are compiled from crowdsourced data.

Three million speed tests were recorded between March and August and showed that EE offered the most consistent network quality of all operators and recorded the greatest relative coverage score across 5G an when combined with 4G.

Tutela defines ‘consistent network quality’ as the percentage of time that a network meets the minimum performance thresholds for HD video, group conference calls, and gaming.

The only category that EE didn’t win was 5G Consistent Quality, which was won by Three, while O2 pushed EE close when it came to 5G coverage and video.

“As 5G continues to be gradually adopted by more mobile users across the UK, the big four operators continue to impress us with their results,” added Tom Luke, vice president at Tutela. “New metrics have been added to this report to better understand the overall mobile experience and video experience users are having in the UK, as well as what impact 5G is having, and it is pleasing to see strong contenders emerging such as 3 with its high 5G Excellent Consistent Quality and EE with its high Video Experience score.

“During what has been a challenging year, a strong and reliable mobile connection is a must, and leading into 2022 operators must continue expanding 5G coverage and improving infrastructure to ensure subscribers are feeling the full impact.”

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.