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Comparison of UK 5G Mobile Broadband Speeds and Operators

Monday, December 7th, 2020 (1:03 pm) - Score 11,928

Telecoms analyst firm Point Topic has published the results of a new study, which examined how 4G and 5G based mobile broadband speeds compare across the United Kingdom and between different operators. Overall EE appeared to deliver the best speed, but Vodafone or Three UK are close behind.

The new research appears to be based off data collected via Thinkbroadband’s web-based speed test, which reflects a 4G sample size of 37,665 tests and a small 5G sample of just 3,141 tests gathered during the 12-months to September 2020. The report has also opted to “regard actual download speeds of 100Mbps+ on mobile networks as 5G,” which seems like a flaky way of separating the technologies (4G networks is some areas, and at certain times of day, can go above 100Mbps).

One other oddity is that Point Topic has set the “theoretical maximum download speeds” for 5G tech at 10-50Gbps, which is fine for the far-off future (not yet achievable), but for 4G they’ve only chosen 300Mbps, even though the LTE Advanced standard puts the downstream peak at 1Gbps. A few years ago we saw EE demonstrating speeds above 400Mbps (example) but, admittedly, such speeds are incredibly rare in a real-world environment.

Otherwise, the study found that average (mean) 5G speeds are currently about 3-4 times faster than existing 4G networks, which is better than it sounds since most operators are mainly harnessing a 40-50MHz slice of spectrum frequency in the 3.4GHz band (Three UK can use a lot more but they don’t yet seem to fully benefit). The results are roughly consistent with other studies we’ve seen from Ookla (here) and opensignal (here).

We should point out that existing 5G networks can also dynamically harness some 4G spectrum, but this is not the most efficient mode of 5G delivery.

NOTE: Ofcom will auction off more 5G friendly bands – 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz – in January 2021, which should boost speeds and aid coverage.

4G and 5G UK Speeds Compared

  Average download speeds Median download speeds Peak download speeds Theoretical maximum download speeds
4G 41Mbps 35Mbps 90+ Mbps 300Mbps
5G 148Mbps 128Mbps 753 Mbps 10-50Gbps

At this point it’s noted that 69.1% of all 5G mobile speed tests in the sample were below 150Mbps, while 28% were measured at between 151-300Mbps, then just 2.6% came in at 301-450Mbps and only 0.3% could muster a result around 451-753Mbps.

UK 5G Mobile Operators Compared

Operator Median, Mbps Average, Mbps Max, Mbps
EE 130.0 149.9 753.0
Vodafone 129.0 143.6 415.0
Three UK
122.0 158.7 473.0
O2 103.0 115.7 247.0

Interestingly Three UK does manage to deliver the fastest average (mean) download speed for 5G, although when looking at a median average they fall away a bit and their max recorded speed is nowhere near EE’s. The table, being ordered by a median average, sees EE come top but it’s clearly very close between EE, Vodafone and Three UK. Sadly, O2 is not fairing so well.

We should point out that many early 5G networks are also still in their infancy, can lack key features (varies between countries and operators) and have only very limited levels of coverage (usually centred on busy urban areas). Mobile networks are, by nature, also highly variable (end-users and their environment are constantly changing) and that makes it quite tricky to get an accurate gauge on performance.

We can see the fabled gigabit speeds becoming possible via 5G in the future (within the UK), but that’s most likely to be of benefit to urban areas, while rural locations tend to prefer lower frequency bands for wide cost-effective coverage (i.e. less spectrum is available and that will make it hard to achieve gigabit speeds).

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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.
Leave a Comment
29 Responses
  1. 5G_Infinity says:

    Three has demonstrated, and been independently tested (@Peter Clarke) at 1.8Gbps DL.

    For EE to achieve 753Mbps means it is using Dual Connect radio and CA so the bulk of the speed is actually 4G at 1800MHz.

    4G Advanced Pro (one up from Advanced) offers 1.2Gbps assuming you have access to sufficient spectrum.

    Think Point Topic should update their understanding and testing.

  2. NE555 says:

    They classify “actual download speeds of 100Mbps+ on mobile networks as 5G”, and then find that the peak speed on 4G is 90Mbps+ ! Who’d have thought??

    1. Billy Nomates says:

      Hah I have a screenshot of a speedtest I took in Stockholm in 2018 on Telia 4G. 234mbit down, 38 up.

    2. Billy Nomates says:

      Bah and now the image host has gone fluffly

      here’s a temporary link


    3. Buggerlugz says:

      Its way higher on 4G if the carriers have the spectrum, makes me wonder why they’d bother with 5g at all (when a correctly implemented 4g with enough spectrum and back-haul would be probably around what most folks see with pretend 5g currently.)

  3. Just Another Opinion says:

    I get around a 1/10th (4Mbps down) of the average speed bobbing around London and the South East. Don’t even bother using it in Clapham Junction (pre-covid). My money is on 5G being pretty much the same for the average speeds (1/10th) generally but performs much better in places like Clapham Junction.

    5G maybe a FTTC killer.

    1. Billy Nomates says:

      Im getting 300+ on three 5G constantly (although I fear there may be only a handfull of us using that mast at 5G). However my local mast is only a 40MHz site, would love to try a 100MHz one.

  4. Meadmodj says:

    Far to early and certainly wrong to base assumptions on speed tests particular mast configurations and devices. What is currently labelled 5G is a cobbled replicate based on current “5G Ready” devices on limited spectrum and an existing/changing mast base. So expect 25-60Mbps on 4G and 120-200Mbps on 5G. Anything better is a momentary and meaningless bonus which cannot be relied on.

    All these surveys do is provide an indication of UK “5G” status.

  5. Mark says:

    Won’t this take longer to roll-out than 4G? Certainly seems more resistance to it being implemented with planning and public objections, always find it strange, they move on to the next technology WIhout completing the previous, lots of 2G only masts only still around, what a mishmash it’s all becoming.

    1. Michael V says:

      @Mark. I kinda agree. We have 2G, 3G, 4G, now 5G. I think we could have 4G matching 2G coverage. The Operators should have made the effort to get everyone on a 4G device & started shutting down 2G. Three seem to be the first ones to have VoLTE across all 4G bands now.
      Vodafone mentioned back in 2018 that they may start decommissioning 2G from 2023. So it’s been talked about. But we shouldn’t still be seeing 2G only coverage now.

    2. JitteryPinger says:

      I would say decommissioning 3G is a better step than 2G.

      A lot of things around that use 2G to communicate such as meters, traffic equipment, infrastructure and of course older devices.

      Turning of 3G will affect a hell of a lot less devices and those devices that use 3G will have 2G to fall back on.

      Of course currently the operators are still in the processes of refarming spectrum from 2/3G spectrum and I’m going to guess at some point some providers may start refarming 4G spectrum to 5G .

  6. Dah says:

    All those speeds are terrible. And you say south africa is a crappy back water country when they get 5 times those speeds. keep telling yourselves ypur better than the rest of the world and stay blind.

    1. Marek says:

      What? Everywhere in africa you get over 80+ or 100+ mbs? Stop dreaming.

    2. jacob says:

      shut up you clown go carry some water on your head

  7. Graeme says:

    A small sample that doesn’t seem representative. I’ve achieved 750 mb/s on three consistently on 5G. In an area that’s not been hugely invested in yet.

    1. dave says:

      Which ironically is in itself a small sample and not representative.

    2. Billy Nomates says:

      I think that was his point Dave.

      I also get really good 5G speeds. I doubt they will last forever though and it’s more likely there’s only a handful of 5G users on my local mast. Still when you look at the overall big picture you tend to get really poor results.

  8. Mark says:

    I got around 200Mb/s download and around 10Mb/s upload indoors and 400Mb/s download , 100Mb/s upload outdoors in East London. I’m using 5G Voxi(Vodafone). All my results are uploaded to coverage map app. Those speeds are not impressive when you see people in USA achieving 2Gb+ speeds . I’m hoping they will improve it soon. Still I’m paying £35 for that plan in Voxi while Virgin Media charge me the same price for cable internet 100Mb/s down, 10Mb/s up which is kinda funny. T-Mobile is getting rid of 3G in USA. No idea why we still need 2G and 3G in UK? And why EE, Vodafone and O2 doesn’t allow PAYG to use VoLTE and WiFi calling?

    1. Essa Moshiri says:

      Hi Mark,
      It is not same to compare the Virgin with your Mobile operator. With your virgin you have a commitment speed of 100Mbit down and 10 up. With Mobile operator IF the mast you connect to becomes overloaded, your average speed does drop and you have no mean to complain.

      Further, you also have limitation on how much you can use with most Mobile operator, in the very fine print you find a number attached, if you exceed it they will slow you down. With Virgin or FTTP you won’t have these limitation.

  9. Essa Moshiri says:

    I think it is interesting many people have covered that operators don’t build out the network to its full capacity. Nes and Billy had a conversation about this and proof was provided.

    The reason you see a better network (IMHO) in Sweden (I used to live there). Is actually two main reason.

    – at the time when the government made the frequency available through a auction, it put quite detailed requirement of coverage. I.E the operator obliged to ensure that within the certian period cover 99.9% of the country. This is very important as Coverage is one of the key issues. What is the point of you can get good speed in one spot only right?

    – You have to look at the population size, Sweden has by far lower population in densed packed cities. Stockholm as whole has maybe 2 mil, London has 12 mil in population. This will impact the speed.

    Lastly, yes they might have not implemented it well as well, lets look at the network itself. Can it be better etc, but please bear the above in mind.

    1. Mark says:

      Does Sweden suffer from the same degree of problems as UK? Nimbys, planning objections, conservation areas etc? I thought Europe could build taller masts andhan Uk. Let’s face it some areas the vocal minority do everything they can go stop mobile coverage. Unless this changes, which I can’t see, the have and have not, will stay.

  10. Oleg says:

    I am on on three 5g cpe pro (indoor London N 20)
    4g only 150/30 ping 20 average
    5g 300/70 ping 10 average

    5g 650/70 ping 8 max speed

    On my iPhone 12 mini

    200/5 average
    600/10 max speed

  11. Mark Scott says:

    Mobile providers should be compelled by law to provide at least 95-99% 5G coverage before even thinking about 6G. There are some places in Wiltshire where you cannot even get 3G, let alone 4G.

    1. Mark says:

      I suspect those areas in Wiltshire are areas where people object, AONB etc, same here in this area of Cotswolds, as soon as planning application comes up there all up in arms!

    2. dave says:

      I live in Wiltshire and with a dual sim phone (Vodafone + EE) I have found myself without any signal at all at times.

  12. Ben says:

    O2 have not invested in nowt but harassing me for debt I do not owe

  13. Essa Moshiri says:

    I am sure (not 100% certain) that planning permission is much stricter if we compare it to UK. Mark you have a very good point, the devil is in the detail, yet the requirement during the action is not the highest bidder (cash for the government) it is more important to have a higher coverage. What I mean is that if someone outbids someone else by 10% but has less of coverage, they would not win the bid based on how much money they spend and how much government gets from the operator.

  14. Terry Oliver says:

    Again living in a rural area we don’t get sufficient broadband, this would be an ideal substitute to fibre broadband but only for urban areas?

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