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GWS Reveals the Best Mobile Operators for 36 UK Cities – 2020

Monday, February 3rd, 2020 (12:55 pm) - Score 1,527

Global Wireless Solutions has published the results of their latest “extensive national” study into mobile network (4G etc.) performance across 36 cities, which is one of the few to name O2 as the overall “most reliable network” (followed by EE, Vodafone and Three UK). But it’s not just a question of mobile broadband speed.

GWS states that they conducted a total of 936,249 data and voice task tests in order to evaluate mobile network performance across the United Kingdom. The tests were conducted using the GWS OneMeasure App running on iPhone devices, Rohde & Schwarz’s Freerider SW using Samsung Galaxy devices, and the GWS Mobistat data evaluation and reporting platform.

In addition, GWS worked with Jigsaw Research – an international strategic insights agency – to conduct a series of in-depth qualitative focus group sessions with UK smartphone owners aged 18+ across the UK. The company also teamed-up with YouGov to conduct some “broader quantitative consumer polling” (i.e. total sample size was 2,117 adults, of which 1,913 had a Smartphone). Most of this was done in late January 2020.

Overall the GWS Reliability OneScore results reveal that O2 is the best operator for 18 out of the 36 cities. The second most reliable network was EE, which scored most reliable in 14 locations. We should caveat that almost every other study that we’ve seen tends to show EE as coming top or fighting over the top spot with Vodafone, while Three UK and O2 tend to languish behind.

Key Findings

* The “sweet spot” of network speed is between 4-6 seconds as nearly 8 out of 10 deem this to be an acceptable time to wait to complete mobile based activities such as loading news and other websites. Using this metric as a benchmark, GWS’ engineering level test data across the UK highlights that typically operators are reaching this speed 96% of the time.

* 56% of consumers report that they ‘usually’ encounter problems with their mobile network and websites or apps failing to load impacts almost 30%. Meanwhile 21% reported poor voice quality, while 19% said calls sometimes don’t connect and 19% noted that calls had dropped mid-call.

* 41% now consider network reliability to be more important than speed, compared to just 1% who say that speed is more important to them than reliability.

* 44% said that calls always connecting when they dial was “extremely important” to them, calls dropping infrequently is considered “extremely important” by 37%, while voice call quality was listed as “extremely important” by 38% of consumers.

* Interestingly voice call related concerns are 2 to 3 times more important to consumers than data speed concerns; speeds for uploads and downloads are considered extremely important by only 15% and 24% respectively.

* When asked to select one area for improvement by network operators, 28% reported the desire for increased network coverage, as opposed to just 8% who wanted to see faster data speeds.

* When selecting a new plan, 54% of people said that network coverage would be an important factor in their decision – more than double the amount of people who would consider network speed (26%).

Otherwise Liverpool wins most reliable city for mobile network performance, with Leeds ranked the worst. Sadly this is difficult to judge since GWS has not provided a detailed breakdown of the results for each city.


Dr. Paul Carter, CEO of GWS, said: “The need for speed is an ongoing conversation in the industry and seems to be the de facto benchmark when measuring network success. But that model is broken – while the advance of 5G brings with it exciting innovations that will undoubtedly change the way we use our phones, just like 4G did a few years ago, using your smart phone is not a race.”

Consumers are not just using their phones for speed hungry activities. They use their phones for a wide range of activities – from calls and messaging to life administration tasks and shopping … Speed and reliability need to co-exist and operators need to weave together a complex tapestry, otherwise known as the “network,” to ensure they are delivering on all fronts for consumers, not just speed.”

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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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7 Responses
  1. Avatar Ryan

    Hmm the report seem fishy 02 coming out top, 02 and Vodafone network footprint is basically the same as they usually share the same cell site.

    4g spectrum wise Vodafone got more than 02 also less customers and my own personal experience of both of them no way 02 is more reliable than Vodafone.

    • Avatar bob

      Well I think I’ll be switching to O2 when my contract with Vodafone ends… hmm not sure about that!

      Interestingly although Vodafone and O2 share masts there can still be a big difference in network performance and coverage. I’ll use Banbury as an example. The only reason that O2 is better than Vodafone here is that Vodafone have still not enabled 4G+ (LTE+/LTE-CA) here. Vodafone is unusable in the town centre as 10Mhz 4G is not enough!

      Whereas in Reading Vodafone have some 5G and good LTE+ coverage and 70Mbps+ speeds yet O2’s LTE+ coverage seems limited according to nperf.

    • Avatar CJ

      @Ryan The problem is that most of Vodafone’s spectrum has not been deployed widely in the O2-controlled area.

      A typical mast in my part of the O2 area will have 25MHz of O2 spectrum deployed across 800, 1800 & 2100 with carrier aggregation over all 3 bands, but only 20MHz of Vodafone spectrum across 800 & 2100 and no carrier aggregation, so effectively only 10MHz is usable.

      It’s no surprise that O2 usually comes out of these tests looking better than Vodafone in the eastern half of the country. I often find Vodafone 4G is less than 1Mbps at peak times.

  2. Avatar Michael V

    There’s so many different companies doing their own tests, I wonder how they measure their results!
    I’ve got 5 accounts with Three, my phone main phone supports their VoLTE / Supervoice Network & for me their coverage is great around South Wales & mid west Wales. That’s my experience & all I care about!

  3. Avatar Shaukat

    Anyone has any ideas where Worchester is? Other than being listed at the bottom of the table.

  4. Avatar Chris befuddled Sayers

    Banbury is a historic market town on the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire, England. The town is situated 64 miles northwest of London, 37 miles southeast of Birmingham, 27 miles south-by-southeast of Coventry and 22 miles north-by-northwest of the county town of Oxford. It had a population of 46,853 at the 2011 census….., Banbury is not a city, why is it in the table?

  5. Avatar Gary

    They’ve left out the 5th largest city… Sheffield.

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