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Ookla Study Names Three UK Fastest for 5G Speeds at 231Mbps

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021 (3:38 pm) - Score 7,248

Ookla, which operates the popular Speedtest.net service, has just published a new Q1-Q2 2021 (H1) study of 5G mobile broadband performance from Three UK, EE, Vodafone and O2 (VMO2), which found that Three delivered the fastest average (median) download speeds of 231.07Mbps. But Vodafone wins on uploads (19.69Mbps).

Before we get started, it’s important to highlight that mobile data speeds are difficult to pin down because related users are always moving through different areas (indoor, outdoor, underground etc.), using different devices with different capabilities and the surrounding environment (weather, trees, buildings etc.) is ever changeable.

NOTE: 5G rollouts are still in their infancy, and thus UK coverage remains broadly weak.

All the above can impact your signal quality, and that’s before we even consider other issues, such as network (backhaul) capacity at different cell sites or differing spectrum ownership between mobile operators. But with all that said, it was interesting to note Three UK’s claim yesterday (here), which pointed to “recognition from Ookla that we are the UK’s Fastest 5G network in Q1-Q2 2021.

At the time, Ookla had not yet revealed such results, but they have now supplied them. The following results were extracted from a total of 190,055 speed tests conducted by users on Three UK’s network, as well as 123,242 on Vodafone, some 251,626 on EE (BT) and just 64,737 on O2. We aren’t quite sure why O2 has a significantly smaller sample size, but it is what it is.

Median Download Speed
Three UK 231Mbps
Vodafone 159Mbps
O2 155Mbps
EE 151Mbps

Median Upload Speed
Vodafone 19.69Mbps
EE 18.42Mbps
Three UK 13.65Mbps
O2 11.74Mbps

Median Latency (lower figures are faster)
Vodafone & EE 29ms (miliseconds)
O2 31ms
Three UK 33ms

The reason why uploads and latency times are only a little better than those of existing 4G services is because most of the current 5G deployments actually still make some use of 4G connectivity and spectrum, which won’t change until Standalone (SA) 5G is deployed. However, clearly Three UK were indeed the fastest, albeit only for 5G download speeds.

The good downstream performance probably reflects Three UK’s strong spectrum holdings. The operator could already harness a total of 140MHz (frequency) for 5G, across several radio spectrum bands. One of those includes a 100MHz block of contiguous spectrum in the 3.4-3.8GHz band (here), which is known to be a sweet spot for 5G. On top of that, they recently bagged an extra 20MHz in the 700MHz band for £280m as part of Ofcom’s auction (here), but this has yet to be deployed.

On the other hand, Ofcom’s recent auction also released quite a lot of new spectrum frequency in the 3.6-3.8GHz bands to EE, O2 and Vodafone, which once fully deployed could potentially change the current picture and may erode Three’s advantage on this front. But we should add that a different study, from Opensignal, actually identified EE as the fastest for 5G (here), but that was based on older data.

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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
49 Responses
  1. Steven Brown says:

    Seems abit fishy that three sell alot of 5g home kit which is gonna make the score higher.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Vodafone and EE both do the same with 5G home broadband style routers, albeit not as well advertised. But you’d also find that most Smartphone based 5G services will benchmark at similar speeds, so it isn’t strictly an advantage.

    2. CorruptDetected says:

      This news story fake I can confirm and I have pictures proof that I am with Vodafone and I have 5G with 238 MBPS

    3. Can hand says:

      Lol just because your speed is fast means nothing that’s not how it works they don’t just go off your speed

  2. Declan M says:

    Still wouldn’t go near them with a barge pole

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      From my past experience I’d agree.

    2. The Wanderer says:

      I had the same opinion as you, but I gave them another go when 5G rolled out.

      Couldn’t be happier. The slowest it’s ever been was 360mbit. Their 4G I wouldn’t like to be stuck on, no. But their 5G is really good in my opinion. Of course I think Vodafone sucks but someone else will say it’s the greatest network ever.

    3. Lee says:

      Three’s network (at least 5g & 4g) is down as I type and has been since yesterday. Intermittent service. A few minutes on, hours down. They can’t fix it.

  3. Michael V says:

    Three could knock EE off the top spot!
    Seen improvements the last year around South Wales. with LTE & with LTE-A bringing faster speeds in addition to 5G.
    Plus with new sites going up around Cardiff fuller signal more often.
    Definitely my best network!

  4. Duncan says:

    Three 5G is really good. Easily beats EE here at over 400Mbps compared to EE at around 180-200Mbps.

  5. Sam Perry says:

    This is rubbish I got 600Mbps on EE in Brighton on Saturday

    1. Vince says:

      One needs to understand how “averages” work…

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Well “average” and “median” are two completely different things. Get real, they only use the median because it makes them look better.

    3. CarlT says:

      Median is an average alongside mean and mode.

      Median is usually less generous than mean and more representative – customers at each extreme skew the results less.

    4. Connor says:

      Yeah, picking average would most likely put it more in Three’s favour with their spectrum allocation.

      Imagine you have 10 houses, 9 have 30mbps but one has gigabit; the average would be 127 while the median is a more representative 30.

  6. Aled says:

    Three are a mixed bag. They are cheap so they have a lot of teenagers on board, so in the cities they can be a bit limited on 4G.

    On rural sites, they are often really good, on par with EE when they are available.

    1. Jackster says:

      They share a lot of sites with EE thus on par with them moat of the time for 3g and existing 4g connectivity.
      I dual Three and EE and very rarely see a signal difference between them.

      Their 5G deployment looks to be mostly on their own here in Derby though so looks like they are potentially moving to single occupancy sites where they can.

  7. CarlT says:

    Ookla falsifying results would cost them way more than any single operator will pay them to do so.

    They rig their reports their data is discredited and companies stop paying them for their software.

    There is no reason to think Three paid Ookla for this.

  8. Lucian says:

    Having just finished a 30 days test of their 5G, I have to admit the reports must be true.
    Their 5G is indeed much snappier than EE, at least in my neck of the woods.

  9. Bubbles says:

    Damien I do, 700Mbps down on 5G. YES PLEASE

  10. Buggerlugz says:

    Of course the results have nothing at all to do with the fact Three is putting up 5G mast’s in the middle of nowhere, or out of town in fields with a handful of homes nearby, so hardly anyone uses them allowing them to remain uncontended.

    If only the same could be said for they’re 4G coverage……..

    1. CarlT says:

      Hardly anyone uses those towers there’ll be hardly any tests from them, then, and they’ll be drowned out by testing from more dense areas.

  11. Jackster says:

    Got just under 500mbps on one of their new towers in a heavily built up area when I had some 5G test kit.

    Shame it is not SA as that reliance on 4G for upload sucks. I actually get better upload on 4G than on 5G.

    Looks like all the Three haters are in the comments as always bashing on the network. Like it costs half that of EE and yall expecting it to be better than EE.

    I dual sim Three with EE and they pretty much match signel strength most of the time. Only 2G sometimes being better in remote areas as it is on a lower frequency (band 3) than Three’s band 1 which mostly carries their 3G network.
    Obviously speeds are faster on EE and they had 4G+ (carrier aggregation and a few other features) at least 4-5 years before Three but again, you get what you pay for.

    1. Billy Nomates says:

      I bet most of the three bashers tried it once years ago, on their tatty old 4G ifruitphone and then spent the next 5 years telling everyone how it sucks without ever revisiting it after all the work they had done to refarm the frequencies.

      It’s the same old hat everywhere. wahwah three bad, worst network. Yawn. Stay off it, more bandwidth for me. Enjoying my 600+ mbits thanks. It’s faster than my virgin media.

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Billy, Three deserve all they get. If that makes me a Three basher, then I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it.

      I counted 32 phone calls to them in the 19 months I was them (until they let me leave without penalty). They were away from 3 months of me joining them my local mast was at capacity, they promised it’d be resolved time and time again, but they did absolutely nothing to address it.

  12. Henry says:

    I pay £3.50/mo after cashback redemption for unlimited 5G Three sim and get 400 Mbps on Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2. Me testing the speed 4 times daily obviously contribute to this haha

    1. Ryan says:

      What website did you use to get it THAT low!? What was the original cost.

      Many thanks

  13. Connor says:

    I’ve seen gigabit speeds on Three in my area, friend of mine got 1.2 on his iPhone. All speedtest results.

  14. Ig Og says:

    I’d help them get better speed results if SMARTY allowed 5G access… hint…hint

    1. Ig Og says:

      SMARTY have been saying that since August 2020. 🙁

  15. CarlT says:

    Wasn’t aware you had the 190,055 tests in front of you but okay. You clearly know more about the Three network and the performance on it than I.

  16. Shaukat says:

    We live about 20m from a three mast, in the B62 postcode area of the west midlands and can get speeds between 500 to 800Mbs, and about 50Mbs upload, a few miles down the road in Birmingham, from what I’ve heard in the right conditions speeds can reach about a 1gig.

    1. Connor says:

      I’ve gotten a gig personally in Wolverhampton and Wednesfield while a friend got a couple hundred above also in Wolves.

      Really looking forward for this to bring better competition in the mobile space.

  17. Nigel Jones says:

    After having too many issues with Vodafone in Brighton/Hove/Worthing (particularly on the west) I took vodafone, EE, and 3 on our holiday to scotland. We hit Sunderland, Edinburgh, aberdeen, Inverness, skye, Fort William, Glasgow, Chester & home. Plus Bristol. I’d say EE knocked it out of the park many times. Even in the highlands. Vodafone was mediocre – patchy, sometimes super fast, other times no-one home. 3 were useless. (even with 800 Mhz/volte) on iPhone 12. Too often no signal, too often signal but no/slow data. I was utterly astounded by the difference. Much greater than I expected. Ok these places are only my personal experience but, oh wow

  18. Jamie Simms says:

    Having done a bit of my own testing around the Midlands these results seem to be accurate.

    3 have been very busy installing their own standalone masts and once they start the build they get them up and running very quickly normally in 2-3 weeks where as Vodafone are also installing their own new 4&5G site’s unwinding from O2 but often they install the cabinets then wait 6 weeks then install the mast then wait another 6 weeks then wait another few weeks to commission the mast.

    EE it appears have put a pause on rollout for new coverage and making sure they have fastest speeds as they are focusing on removing all the Huawei equipment

  19. Mike Foster says:

    What I find interesting with Ookla speed test sites is that Virgin media no longer appear with servers in Leicester, Nottingham, Luton etc, leaving the way open for others, I wonder if this has screwed the results with VM mobile (Vodafone – O2 whatever)

    1. Jamie Simms says:

      As far as I know the Virgin servers are still there but can only be used if you are using a Virgin media connection which it can tell from IP address

  20. Skiptonian says:

    granted its median speeds but i wouldn’t go with three, EE for me, currently switched from FTTC to 4G wifi through EE. Seen my speeds go from 48/16 to 270/44 on 4G cannot wait for 5G to come in.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      The fact people are leaving FTTC for 4G should really be sending out alarm bells to BT, But alas it’s got its corporate ostrich head buried in the sand still.

    2. CarlT says:

      Openreach are building out FTTP faster than everyone else in the UK combined so not sure what you had in mind for an appropriate response?

    3. GNewton says:

      “Openreach are building out FTTP faster than everyone else in the UK”

      That’s not quite true. There quite a few areas where Altnets were faster building fibre than BT. However, it is true BT is the biggest fibre builder because of covering more areas.

    4. CarlT says:

      Genuinely ridiculous attempt to nitpick.

    5. Buggerlugz says:

      No it isn’t Carl, give me the percentage of BT’s customers on FTTC vs FTTP then? When you consider we all know only new builds will FTTP in the next decade, its no wonder those stuck on FTTC are moving to 4g.

    6. CarlT says:

      FTTP only for new builds in the next decade?

      Where do you get this stuff from? You can see this is inaccurate in seconds.

      I’m not a cheerleader for anyone but making things up to criticise makes legitimate criticism less valuable and legitimate.

      Openreach are covering very approximately about 1% of the country a month. We aren’t building 300,000 premises a month.

      New build and retrofit are two tracks of at least five.

  21. NC says:

    Personally, and I may be the anomaly, but I found EE where I live (South London) to be the WORST for 4G and 5G speeds.

    Switched to Three and I am blown away by both the 4G and 5G speeds in this area. Especially for the price!

    In Central London, 5G on Three is by far the fastest (even faster than VOXI). I hope this is a sign of things to come as the Three network has a lot of potential.

  22. MilesT says:

    What is needed is for samknows or someone similar to create a multi network measuring box and recruiting some friendly hosts round the country who would be willing to have multiple 4g/5g routers with wired connection to Samknows box so it can do ongoing side by side tests.

    1. Alex Salter says:

      This is a great idea!

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