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EE Still in the Lead as Best UK Mobile Network for H2 2020

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 4,968

The latest biannual H2 2020 study of mobile network (4G and 5G) performance across the United Kingdom by RootMetrics has found that EE (BT) continues to be the best overall operator. On top of that they also delivered the fastest median (average) broadband download speed of 43Mbps (similar to 42.6Mbps in H1).

Much like the previous H1 2020 study, the latest H2 update was conducted by harnessing a number of Samsung Note 10+ 5G Smartphones, purchased off the shelf, to test both 4G and 5G performance. The data this time around will thus include some impact from the first full year of 5G deployments in 2020, although the coverage of such services remains limited.

As usual the testing was conducted during both the day and night across 16 of the UK’s most populated cities, while walking and driving. Overall a total of 644,546 tests were completed, including 25,856 miles driven and over 750 total places visited. Sadly, this means we don’t get a good picture of rural performance as that isn’t the main focus.

The study then splits its results into several categories (network reliability, speed, data, call and text quality etc.) and each is assigned a score out of 100 (higher numbers = better). In terms of the UK-wide results, EE came top of every single category and their closest rival remains Vodafone, but there weren’t many dramatic changes this time around.

Overall Scores for H2 2020 (vs H1 2020 Result)
1. EE – 94.2 (down from 95.2)
2. Vodafone – 89.8 (down from 90)
3. Three UK – 86.6 (up from 86.5)
4. O2 – 85.4 (up from 85.2)

In terms of average (median) download speeds, EE delivered the strongest showing on 43Mbps (Megabits per second) across both 4G and 5G networks combined, but that was largely unchanged from the 42.6Mbps recorded during H1 2020 and it’s a similar story elsewhere. Vodafone achieved 21.1Mbps (up from 19Mbps), Three UK hit 13.9Mbps (down from 14.1Mbps) and O2 reached 12.9Mbps (up from 13.3Mbps).

Rootmetrics h2 2020 uk mobile network scores

The study also includes a limited summary of how the new 5G based mobile broadband networks are performing (4G excluded). Overall EE had the highest 5G availability in 15 of the 16 cities tested, while their lowest availability was a still respectable 19.6% in Edinburgh.

The highest 5G availability for EE was found in Nottingham (57%), while for Vodafone it was Liverpool (44%), then Three UK did best in Hull (29.6%) and O2’s strongest showing was also Hull (17.1%). As for the UK’s capital city of London, EE saw 5G availability of 39.9%, while Three UK hit 16.8%, Vodafone reached 9.7% and O2 finished bottom on just 6.6%.

Meanwhile the fastest 5G median download speed for EE was found in Hull (143Mbps), while Vodafone did well in London (216.6Mbps), O2 topped out in Belfast (178.9Mbps) and Three UK’s fastest was also Belfast (137.2Mbps).

Summary of 5G Results by UK Mobile Operator

EE offers a strong combination of fast 5G speeds plus broad 5G availability: EE’s 5G median download speeds were consistently fast in every city we tested—and much faster than those on 4G LTE—ranging from a speedy 106.5 Mbps in Sheffield to an excellent 143.6 Mbps in Hull. EE’s 5G availability was also impressive in general and broad compared to the other operators. Indeed, EE had the highest 5G availability in 15 of the 16 cities we tested, and EE’s lowest 5G availability of 19.6% in Edinburgh was higher than O2’s highest 5G availability of 17.1% in Hull. The bottom line is that EE’s 5G users should find relatively widespread access to 5G in nearly every city we tested along with quick access to content and entertainment.

O2 delivers consistently fast speeds but generally low 5G availability: O2 clocked 5G median download speeds of at least 117.6 Mbps in 10 of the 11 cities in which we recorded 5G results for the operator, and O2’s 5G speed of 178.9 Mbps in Belfast was particularly impressive. That said, O2 was the only operator that didn’t register 5G availability of at least 20% in any city, with its 5G availability maxing out at 17.1%.

Three clocks fast speeds but availability shows room for improvement: While Three (and others) offered generally low 5G availability in most cities (Three topped out at 29.6%), its 5G speeds were a different story. Three’s 5G median download speeds ranged from a strong 79.1 Mbps in Sheffield to super-fast 137.2 Mbps in Belfast. Even though Three’s 5G users may not be able to access 5G all the time, the good news is that its 5G availability should continue to grow, and when users do connect to 5G, they should find quick access to content.

Vodafone shows fast but relatively limited 5G: Similar to what we observed for O2 and Three, Vodafone’s 5G availability was generally low, but its 5G speeds were impressive. While Vodafone’s 5G availability exceeded 20% in only two cities, with 24.9% in Bristol and a solid 44.0% in Liverpool (the highest in the city), the operator’s availability was below 15.3% in its other 10 cities with 5G. Vodafone’s 5G speeds, meanwhile, were fast, ranging from a strong 81.6 Mbps to a remarkable 216.6Mbps, the fastest 5G median download speed of any operator.

The RootMetrics study also gave a result for each operator’s aggregate median mobile broadband download speed across each of the four UK nations – including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

rootmetrics_h2_2020_speed_by_uk_region_scotland_wales_northern ireland_england

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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
17 Responses
  1. Craig says:

    Is Three’s coverage in central London still as bad?

    1. Xeon says:

      The coverage in central london with 3 isn’t the problem, the problem is it’s way too overused in central london, so you will get extremely bad speeds most the time.

  2. Michael V says:

    O2’s 4G speeds are still not very fast. They are generally the slowest. Around Cardiff & surrounding areas.
    My brother & his family are O2 network users.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      It’s going to be interesting to see how this changes once they can fully harness Virgin Media’s national fixed line network. It’ll probably take a few years to properly integrate, but I’d expect to see O2’s data speeds becoming much more competitive via 4G and 5G.

    2. Anna says:

      Meanwhile somewhere near Duffryn, 0.01mbps down and 0.00mb–oh the test failed up! and they had the nerve to try and hold me to £20 a month 120Gb contract! Luckily the regulator chewed them a new one and they let me go with a full refund. Thank god I only do SIMO!

    3. Ryan says:

      Not sure much can be done with 02 on 4G, it might improve a bit with faster backhual provided by Virgin Media.

      But in the end 02 4G spectrum is their achilles heel, if you look at the allocation you will see EE got a lot more useful spectrum for speed like a nice chunk of 2600.

  3. André says:

    It’s interesting that Three’s big chunk of contiguous spectrum seems to have not translated into the performance that would have been expected, even in the areas where they have better coverage…

    1. Jack says:

      Isn’t that because Three don’t have significant backhaul in place?

    2. Anna says:

      A few miles away as I have shown on here 275mbps on 5G due to a new mast on a tower block – where I was living 1-2mbps although it’s now sitting in the 20 range and I’ve seen it go up to 60 at 2am – so they clearly have a lot of work to do.

    3. Michael V says:

      On Three 5G I’m seeing ave of 300/400 Down.
      Last week in one place I spotted 500 down.
      That’s around Cardiff.
      Upload is still LTE-A speeds.
      Download on LTE-A is around 150!

    4. Connor says:

      I find it really strange how in my personal testing in Wolverhampton I got about 200 on 40mhz sites and about 800 on 100mhz sites. I would like to see their raw data.

      Testing for me was performed on a OnePlus 8 Pro

  4. Anna says:

    They are the best but I have found so many of their MNVO’s have variable results so they must have shit hot bandwidth management. Example

    1p mobile gives you 50GB but it’s 40/20 on bandwidth – Virgin Mobile is 80/40 on bandiwdth and it unlimited.

    Surely block data should get better speed? Go figure

  5. gerarda says:

    Surely the headline should be best network in 16 cities, and not best UK network ?

  6. John says:

    I recently changed from Vodafone to O2. In my town in west Cambs I was getting up to 11Mbps on Vodafone while I am getting 40Mbps on O2. For £15 I have 15GB of internet while Vodafone offers only 5GB.

  7. Duncan says:

    EE is great in town and city centres, but it falls down for me indoors in a normal home out of town. I get full bars outside my house but one or maybe two indoors where it drops out occasionally.

    O2 and Vodafone may be slower but they get much better into homes and other buildings in my experience. I would rather have a healthy signal and it work than speed!

  8. Harry Garden says:


  9. Rural Fermanagh says:

    I have EE, Three and Vodafone 4G with a dedicated 4G/LTE router and external roof mounted antennas, 2-3 miles from the masts.
    Three and EE get around 4.5Mbit download and Vodafone 2.5Mbit. Uploads vary between 2 and 10Mbit. Seems to be a significant difference here than the performance details listed in the article above.
    BT USO quote is £60,000, thank you so mcuh Ofcom for the legal right to request decent broadband!
    Welcome to the ‘best’ rural mobile broadband!

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