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GWS Names the Best Mobile Operators for 37 UK Cities in 2021

Friday, February 19th, 2021 (2:19 pm) - Score 2,304

Global Wireless Solutions has today published the results of their annual (2021) study of mobile network (4G and 5G) performance (broadband speeds etc.) across 37 UK cities, which concludes that O2 is the “most reliable network” – performing best in 18 of 37 cities, towns, and motorways tested, followed by EE, Vodafone and Three UK.

GWS states that their engineers conducted a total of 1.2 million data and voice task tests (described as “controlled scientific network testing“) – via iOS and Android devices (using the GWS OneMeasure App) – in order to evaluate mobile network performance across the United Kingdom (on both 4G and, for the first time, 5G networks). In addition, they also conducted some quantitative online consumer polling with Censuswide (between October and December 2020).

The survey found that, even during the lockdown, some 39% of O2 customers were always satisfied with their network’s reliability, compared to 33% of EE customers, 31% of Vodafone customers and just 30% of Three UK’s customers. Similarly, 84% of O2’s customers are happy with their mobile broadband speeds at home, as are 78% of EE customers, and 82% of Three UK and Vodafone customers.

Consumers also have high expectations about the on-going rollout of ultrafast 5G networks, with 38% believing that faster 5G deployments could help improve the economic recovery after the pandemic. Additionally, 26% believe that it could help fix the problem of the digital divide around the country (debatable given the spectrum limits of rural connectivity, where achieving wide coverage is cost preferable to faster speeds).

Key Findings of the GWS 2021 Mobile Study

— Average speeds during network capacity stress tests where 5G is delivered are 150 Mbps across all operators, compared with 33Mbps in areas where there is no 5G present.

— Success rates for tasks completed with 5G were well over 99% across all operators.

— A 5G signal was found to be available across 37% of the markets tested by GWS, but results show that it is only being delivered to 5G-enabled handsets 20% of the time.

— GWS discovered that in order to achieve a baseline of 100Mbps average network speed throughout an entire market, operators must first achieve around 40% coverage via 5G in that market. This baseline occurred in only 7 out of the 32 cities and towns tested (and in each instance only one operator in each city reached the baseline).

— Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester all recorded average overall speeds in excess of 100Mbps on any operator, with Vodafone accounting for four of these values and EE for three. And as 5G coverage expands, faster speeds are more likely to be consistently achieved. For example, in Belfast, EE achieved overall speeds of 102Mbps with 5G coverage of 41%, whereas in Manchester, Vodafone recorded an average overall throughput of 166Mbps with coverage of 70%.

— GWS found that 5G signal is, on average, available 40% of the time in UK cities, 16% in towns, and 11% on motorways, while at the same time the network is completing tasks on 5G just 23% of the time in cities, 8% in towns, and only 5% of the time along motorways.

In terms of overall network reliability, O2 earns the title of the UK’s Most Reliable Network for the third year running, ranking top in 18 out of 37 locations tested. O2 is also the most reliable on the UK’s major motorways – M1, M6, M25 and M62. The operator is followed in the overall rankings by EE, which has wins in 16 locations, and Vodafone with wins in 3 locations, while Three UK has no wins.

We should point out that this is one of the few benchmarks where O2 comes top (EE and Vodafone are normally the ones battling over the top spot in other studies).

GWS OneScore Reliability Winners by Market

Market GWS OneScore Reliability Winner
Barnsley O2
Belfast O2
Birmingham O2
Bradford EE
Bristol EE
Cambridge O2
Cardiff O2
Coventry O2
Derry EE
Edinburgh EE
Glasgow O2
Leeds O2
Leicester O2
Lincoln O2
Lisburn O2
Liverpool EE
London EE
M1 O2
M6 O2
M25 O2
M62 O2
Maidstone EE
Manchester EE
Newcastle Upon Tyne EE
Norwich O2
Nottingham Vodafone
Oxford O2
Paisley EE
Portsmouth EE
Reading EE
Sheffield Vodafone
Southampton EE
Swansea Vodafone
Warrington EE
Worcester EE
Worthing O2
Smaller Motorways EE

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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
16 Responses
  1. Sam says:

    Chichester -Vodafone
    Brighton – EE

  2. AQX says:

    This doesn’t work so great for my Virgin Sim, looks like I may be hopping sooner than later

  3. Buggerlugz says:

    Good to see only 30% of Three’s customers are happy, wonder if they can take something from that figure and actually try and improve on it, rather than continuing to sign up even more customers to their over-stretched network?

    1. Name says:

      No, they don’t care. They have customers only because they offer them a lot of data and air time in low price.

    2. Billy Nomates says:

      I must be the only happy three customer lol.

      Well apart from when my 5G turns into 4G (happens a lot actually)

    3. M says:

      Well I was pretty happy with Smarty which is owned by Three, in fact I’m considering going back to them once they have their app out, which is coming, or 5G tarries which are also coming. I moved from them to Voxi who yes are faster, but they also drop to Edge too often, plus they spam far too much.
      Just my opinion.

    4. Michael V says:

      @Billy. For me, Three is my best choice. Been with them for years & seen plenty of improvements where I travel.

      @M. Vodafone still have too many places where we will see 2G. they need to match it all with VoLTE.

    5. Bob says:


      My three 4g data used to always switch to 3g as soon as I started downloading something. I actually got more reliable and consistent service by disabling 4g. Because of this, they cancelled both my contracts mid term, saying they couldn’t fix the mast.

  4. Name says:

    Yet another useless research. Who is paying for this?

  5. Zakir Hussain says:

    EE Dominate the market to be the fastest network provider and in terms of deploying improvements and installing new technologies.

    Why is other networks so slow look at Three network they have the biggest chunk of 5G spectrum but they are very slow in deploying that.

    Only Vodafone can step up to the mark after EE.

    I Hope EE dont win the biggest chunk of spectrum when ofcom auction off 700mhz of 5G bandwidth.

    EE are stingy they are so over priced I understand you pay for what you get but long term EE will customers only customers who stay with EE are the people who dont really use that much data.

    People will rely on 5G broadband if they cant get proper fibre broadband like me.

    1. Billy Nomates says:

      so why is it that three has more 5G deployments than EE ?
      EE have totally forgotten us for 5G as well as Vodafone and O2.

    2. Aled says:

      Are EE waiting for the new 600-700mhz spectrum before they really go mad with their rollout?

    3. Mark says:

      If you want EE speeds and coverage but don’t want EE’s prices, just join one of the MVNO operators that use them. I have 2 SIMs, both with unlimited everything for £30 a month on the EE network

    4. JP says:

      Billy – How have you come to the conclusion that EE has less deployments than Three?

      EE has a much larger and denser coverage of 5G than any other network.

    5. JP says:

      Zakir – So your saying EE has the upper hand with providing the fastest network and also the best 5G coverage, but your expecting this to be given away for free.

      That isn’t going to work now is it, Three seems to be in a position of having the technology but hasn’t got the backend available widely to power it so rollout is slow, but eventually you will see Three increasing it’s costs to pay for all this.

      Nobody wants to pay for upgrades it seems, I don’t know why networks bother sometimes, won’t see me investing in cheapskates anytime soon.

  6. David says:

    What about Wakefield City?
    Always left out.

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