Half of UK mobile users still struggle with 4G

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Nearly half of mobile users in the UK struggle to get a 4G connection and just one in seven plan to upgrade to 5G within the next year, according to a new study, highlighting the issues of customer perception facing mobile operators.

According to uSwitch, a third of people have trouble connecting to 4G at least once a week, meaning they are forced to rely on the increasingly aging 3G. Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) say they have problems connecting to 4G at home, highlighting the discrepancies between indoor and outdoor coverage too.

This is despite Ofcom figures claiming that 66 per cent of the UK is able access a 4G service from all four main operators.

UK 5G adoption

All four mobile operators either have or will launch 5G networks before the end of the year, but coverage will initially focus on major towns and cities. Predictions suggest 28 per cent of the country will have access to 5G by the end of 2019.

5G will deliver faster speeds and enhanced capacity, while the changes made to core networks will improve the quality of 4G services too. However the study suggests there is little hope that 5G will solve connectivity issues any time soon.

Just 14 per cent plan to upgrade to 5G this year and only 22 per cent plan to do so in the short-term. Aside from coverage limitations, only 19 per cent believe 5G will improve connectivity and 30 per cent believe 5G will be more expensive – despite the fact that Vodafone and Three have said they will not charge a premium.

The findings show that mobile operators might have some difficulty in communicating the benefits of 5G to customers and that more must be done to improve the situation in rural areas.

 “[Poor signal] can sometimes be blamed on network congestion at busy times, but often the capacity simply isn’t there for the numbers of people wanting to access a service they have paid for,” said Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch.

“The arrival of the next generation infrastructure should help with some of the problems currently experienced by 4G users, but this will not be an overnight solution, in particular as fewer than one in seven of us is planning to upgrade to 5G in the next year.

“However, the industry cannot use the launch of 5G as a band aid to cover up the shortcomings of 4G. Providers must work with communities to improve connectivity, especially in rural areas, to prevent millions of people being left stranded on technology two generations out of date.

“Unless networks improve their coverage in rural areas, the risk is that 5G will make the same mistakes as 4G and predominantly serve the cities at the expense of more rural areas of the country.”

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.