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EE is UK's biggest 4G mobile network - but others are catching up

Tuesday, May 19th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

EE has the UK’s biggest and fastest 4G network, according to a new report.

But expanding coverage from Vodafone and O2 is creating greater choice for consumers.

RootMetrics has published its first report looking specifically at the fourth generation of mobile technology, 4G.

It found that EE’s early start on 4G services continues to have an impact, with its network having the largest footprint across the UK at 79.3%.

Yet RootMetrics points out that this UK-wide footprint rate doesn’t necessarily mean that a consumer has a 79.3% chance of accessing 4G everywhere.

Rates vary between individual markets, with some areas having more 4G availability than others.

Vodafone offered a median 4G footprint across all markets of 58.2%, with O2 at 52.7% and Three at 24.8%.

EE offered 4G service in all 16 markets tested by RootMetrics, including a 92.9% footprint in Belfast.

O2 and Vodafone each offered 4G service in 13 of the markets tested, with 4G footprint rates never exceeding 72% in any areas tested.

Three offered 4G service in 14 markets but often recorded smaller 4G footprints, with rates of 4G coverage never exceeding 44% in any market.


RootMetrics measured reliability as the ability to connect to a network and stay connected until the task is complete.

Reliability for all operators when on 4G was strong. When 4G was available, success rates for making a connection and then staying connected often neared 100% for all operators.

The top download speed achieved on each network was also measured, with EE again coming out on top with a maximum speed of 94.1Mbps in Belfast.

O2 recorded its fastest speed of 64.7Mbps in London while Vodafone’s was 64.5Mbps, recorded in both Belfast and London.

Three’s maximum download speed of 50Mbps was recorded in Sheffield.

Median speeds – which RootMetrics says are more impactful on everyday life – were also measured.

EE recorded median speeds above 20Mbps in 12 of 16 markets. O2 and Vodafone also recorded impressive median download speeds and could be closing the gap with EE. Three’s 4G speeds trailed those of the other networks.

When 4G is not available, Three performed strongly and recorded its fastest median download speed of 7.3Mbps in Belfast.

'Startlingly fast'

In comparison, EE’s fastest median download speed when not on 4G was 4.9Mbps in Glasgow. O2 never passed 3Mbps, and Vodafone only exceeded 3Mbps once (in Manchester).

Overall, Londoners enjoy the strongest combination of 4G footprints, reliability, and speed, according to the report.

Hull residents, on the other hand, do not have nearly the same access to 4G and its benefits.

RootMetrics CEO and president Bill Moore said: “2014 was the first year in the UK when all the major networks were providing 4G services, and it appears each has had its success in deploying services across the country.

“We have seen some startlingly fast speeds in pockets of the UK and overall median speeds are substantially higher than 3G.

“What is even more encouraging is the reliability of services once customers are on 4G.”

He added that the growing footprint of each network means customers will be able to consistently access all the benefits 4G brings.

Tests were conducted during the second half of 2014, with the four major networks tested side-by-side in the UK's16 largest metropolitan areas, covering 50% of the population.

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