EE still UK's best network, but Vodafone is strong second

(Image credit: EE)

EE has once again been name the best mobile network in the UK by independent testers RootMetrics, but Vodafone has established itself as the company’s nearest competitor during the first half of 2019.

The BT-owned operator either won or shared top spot in all six testing categories, but Vodafone finished a “strong second” in multiple categories. This included the overall category, as well as reliability, speed, data, call and text.

RootMetrics said investments in Vodafone’s network, such as the rollout of carrier aggregation technology in major cities, was paying dividends. It noted the “excellent reliability” of the Vodafone network as well as improvements in speed.

UK network testing

Indeed, Vodafone recorded the single fastest average median speed of 51.7Mbps in Liverpool. Vodafone also had the best network in Wales.

However EE remains the network to beat – as it has done in virtually every round of testing conducted by RootMetrics since it entered the UK market a number of years ago. In addition to its UK title, EE remains the strongest in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Three finished third in every category, but RootMetrics said this largely reflected improvements made by competitors rather than the decreasing quality of Three’s network. Testers noted consistent speeds and solid reliability but also found that Three has the lowest 4G footprint in the UK.

Finally, O2 ranked joint third or fourth in every category. Again, this is not necessarily because O2 is getting worse but because of the performance of EE, Three and Vodafone. O2 remains strong in Northern Ireland and broke the 20Mbps threshold for average median speed in a number of major cities.

Testers say that new network technologies, coupled with the rollout of new spectrum, could see improvements in the near future.

As ever, speed isn’t everything, but it is the metric that attracts the most headlines. RootMetrics found that EE had the fastest aggregate median download speed of 37.6Mbps, beating Vodafone’s 21.7Mbps. Three was third with 13.6Mbps and O2 last with 11.1Mbps.

However in metro areas, Vodafone’s Liverpool speed was the fastest, followed by EE with 45.7Mbps, O2 with 25.4Mbps and Three with 19Mbps.

The next set of tests will see the impact of 5G for the first time. Both EE and Vodafone have launched their 5G services, with O2 and Three set to follow later this year.

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.