UK operators make geographic 4G coverage gains

Geographic 4G coverage from all UK operators now stands at 57 percent as operators continue to improve their networks, but Ofcom has warned that challenges in providing connectivity to rural areas persist.

In an update to the regulator’s Connected Nations Report, Ofcom found outdoor 3G and 4G data coverage from all four networks (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) had increased to 70 per cent from 63 per cent over the six month period, while telephone coverage rose from 70 per cent to 76 per cent.

Nine in then UK premises can make calls and access data services, but just 68 per cent can access 4G indoors from all four operators – although this is up from 58 per cent. Road coverage has also improved, with 45 per cent A and B routes served by all four operators and just eight per cent not covered by any operator.

UK 4G geographic coverage

There are regional variations too. Although 4G coverage from all four increased by 76 per cent in Scotland and 88 per cent in Wales since 2017, the overall figure for both countries is 30 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.

Over the past few years there has been a shift in the definition of what constitutes mobile coverage. EE is targeting 95 per cent landmass coverage by 2020 and claims to have reached 86 per cent as it works towards delivering the 4G-powered Emergency Services Network (ESN). This is the highest of any UK mobile operator.

In December, Ofcom itself changed the way it measured coverage to reflect how users experience the network. This meant a greater focus on indoor, outdoor and transport coverage metrics and the use of crowdsourced data from handsets rather than predictive analysis.

It says the relatively low number of people served by rural masts, along with the difficulty of providing power and backhaul, means expanding coverage can be challenging.

This may be helped by the ongoing drive to bring full fibre connectivity to more parts of the UK. Superfast broadband coverage of 30Mbps or faster is now available to 93 per cent of the population, but the number of properties that can’t get at least 10Mbps is still at 925,000.

Full fibre coverage now stands at four per cent (1.2 million), while ‘ultrafast’ speeds in excess of 300Mbps are available to 45 percent of UK premises thanks to Virgin Media’s network programme.

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.