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Three UK Delivers the Best 3G and Vodafone the Best 4G Mobile Speeds

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 (12:39 pm) - Score 2,369
4g mobile broadband uk wireless lte technology

A new study of Mobile Broadband (3G and 4G) performance across the United Kingdom, which was conducted by consumer magazine Which? and OpenSignal, has found that Vodafone had the fastest 4G (LTE) based Internet download speeds over the past three months (13.21Mbps) and that’s somewhat better than the average fixed line ADSL home broadband connection that clocks in at 7.4Mbps.

The study, which was based on 67,699,697 data points extracted from 39,294 users of the OpenSignal app, also found that Three UK delivered the slowest 4G speeds but they were still able to come top for 3G performance with a score of 4.45Mbps (Megabits per second). In fairness, Three UK also offer their 4G service at “no extra cost” and their flexible data allowances tend to attract heavier users, which could be putting a bigger strain on capacity.

Fastest UK Mobile Operators for 4G Data (Download Speed)
1. Vodafone 13.21Mbps
2. EE 11.78Mbps
3. O2 10.50Mbps
4. Three UK 8.95Mbps

Fastest UK Mobile Operators for 3G Data (Download Speed)
1. Three UK 4.45Mbps
2. EE 3.96Mbps
3. Vodafone 3.48Mbps
4. O2 2.92Mbps

Interestingly the report also concludes that 4G speeds have almost halved in the past 12 months (falling from a peak of around 19Mbps in 2013 to 10Mbps now), which is said to be down to more people adopting the service. Meanwhile 3G speeds have actually increased from around 3.3Mbps in 2013 to a little over 4Mbps now.

This may all be correct, but in 2013 4G coverage was very limited, with only EE having made any real progress. As a result we’d say it’s more of a normalisation, not least with O2, Vodafone and Three UK’s deployment initially offering slower speeds when they were first introduced towards the end of 2013 (i.e. the 2013 results were primarily from EE’s initially underutilised network).

The report also found that Three UK generally appeared to have the best overall 3G coverage, which was followed by EE, O2 and Vodafone. Likewise 3G coverage is best in London, with the South East and West Midlands (England) also comparatively well served. On the 4G front it’s EE that has the best coverage, which isn’t surprising given that they had around a year’s head-start (Oct 2012) on their rivals by using the existing 1800MHz band. The others had to wait until mid-late 2013 to deploy 4G via the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.

Overall, for both 3G and 4G coverage, London is the best place to be and Wales the worst. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Ofcom are currently preparing a much more detailed report on mobile broadband speeds and coverage in the United Kingdom, which should be out soon-ish.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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4 Responses
  1. DTMark

    I think the points you make are likely to be very accurate – Three’s more generous allowances are going to have the potential to drive down speeds, and since Vodafone’s 4G only launched yesterday (relatively speaking) it’s going to be the fastest since ‘nobody’ is using it.

    Modifying the equipment to get the “4G” icon to light up on a handset which can then be sold as a bundle is all well and good, but I wonder if the backhaul has seen adequate upgrades. If not, the performance difference is going to be very small.

    Our EE 4G used to be about 23/20 and one day that went to 23/48 (down/up) but the “23 down” is stuck. It’s almost always exactly 23.something Meg up day and night. Too consistent to be contention. Looks like the backhaul was only upgraded in one direction. I wait with hope 🙂

  2. Stephen H

    As a rural Aberdeenshire user on the Three network, I would agree with the results that they are definitely best. I think in the cities they could well fall behind the other 3 due to heavy use & the smallest amount of frequency purchased. But I think they wil keep a stronghold in rual loctaions for a good while. Lets face it, 4G is still a year or 2 away from most locations outside the cities & as Three masts are all 3G this gives them a big advantage. I wold like to see them rolling out 4G to rural locations, this would give them a huge advantage over their competitions and since they seem to favour a more random structure to thier rollout, whos to say it won;t happen?

    • DTMark

      We’re in a rural area 5 miles from the nearest town and 7 miles from the next nearest though I wouldn’t really call it “the middle of nowhere”, it’s on the Surrey/Hampshire border.

      We got the Three DC-HSPA upgrade, we got EE 4G quite early on, we also have access to Vodafone 4G now, and if the modem is to believed there’s an O2 4G service here too now (it detects the operator on 4G). Three 4G is due any day.

      I wonder about the logic of the upgrade schedule. Might simply be that this area, being close to a town, is effectively considered to be part of that town so we benefit from that. Might be the population – the cell serves a few thousand, I would think. Also, we’re not far from a major dual-carriageway and the tower is on the edge of that so it also services the “traffic”. Just happens to be fortunate because there’s no fixed-line broadband here anyway, just sub 2 Meg dog slow ADSL2+.

      Having 50 Meg up is like getting cable for the first time having only had ADSL. It’s stupidly quick. For now.

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