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Ookla Warns of Declining UK 5G Mobile Broadband Speeds

Wednesday, Feb 15th, 2023 (2:03 pm) - Score 9,080
5g mobile signal bars uk

Ookla, which operates the popular internet Speedtest.net service, has warned that median 5G performance (mobile broadband download speeds) are declining in many early launch markets like the United Kingdom, where speeds fell by -38.26Mbps (Megabits per second) year-on-year.

The fact that download speeds have fallen in many of the countries that were first to adopt 5G networks won’t come as too much of a surprise to those keeping close tabs on last year’s various speeds reports (example). But it’s particularly worrying for countries like the United Kingdom, which already had some of the lowest 5G speeds of the early adopter countries.

Ookla-5G-Speeds-in-Early-Market-Countries-Dec-2022

In terms of the UK, Ookla noted that our average (median) download speeds hit 129.14Mbps in December 2022, which is down sharply by -38.26Mbps from the year before. But there can be many different reasons for changes like this, which will vary between countries and operators. Not to mention that the UK has had its own particular set of challenges.

Firstly, there’s the fact that early adopters sometimes pay a price because the network kit they deploy isn’t as advanced as what late adopters may be able to harness. For example, the UK was late to the party with 4G, but we did quite well with speeds due, in part, to the greater maturity of the network being deployed. But with 5G it’s been the other way around.

The UK government’s decision to ban network kit from Huawei over security concerns, which came just as the initial 5G rollout was getting into its stride (i.e. diverting resources to a wide scale rip-out-and-replace programme), will have also had an impact. As too will the fact that rising adoption of 5G services will inevitably place more demand on network capacity which, if not adequately managed, can lead to congestion.

On top of that, there’s the fact that some regulators have been slow to release new radio spectrum frequency to fully harness 5G (more spectrum tends to improve performance and coverage). Some of the fastest countries above have deployed a lot of higher frequency mmWave bands too, but Ofcom is still playing catch-up. In fairness, mmW requires costly network densification and does little to improve coverage, so demand for it is usually muted.

UK 5G Speeds (Median) by Operator – H1 vs H2 2022

  1. Three UK – 248.16Mbps (H1) vs 243.18Mbps (H2)
  2. Vodafone – 133.54Mbps (H1) vs 124.47Mbps (H2)
  3. EE (BT) – 126.10Mbps (H1) vs 111.69Mbps (H2)
  4. O2 (VMO2) – 90.16Mbps (H1) vs 72.08Mbps (H2)

In theory, the deployment of future Standalone 5G (SA) networks could help to turn this performance slide around, but going from a 4G/5G hybrid network to a 5G end-to-end setup is a costly and complex challenge that will not be a quick process.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
41 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Given the bandwidth is very limited it comes as no Suprise

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Its due to lack of backhaul and the fact NSA 5g is a complete waste of time and should have never been rolled out. The only reason they did is because #G has become more a marketting ploy than a technology, it’ll do because 6G is just around the corner and if anything is certain that won’t be implemented properly either.

  2. Avatar photo Jammie1408 says:

    I think the speed drop t=is due to the amount of people who are access the network causing bottle necking on the mobile networks, due to the wave on the amount of people now entering the U.K from other countries. This would be mobile customer registered and accessing the networks.

    1. Avatar photo haha says:

      It’s probably both. The local Three mast to me is always screaming it’s cooling – I know my phone got hot but this tower must be on fire 24/7

      I have starlink now – I can’t rely on any mobile network and apart from some places in Scotland only Vodafone is the network to offer under 10mbps over 5g

    2. Avatar photo Oggy says:

      I think Jammie made a typo with his username and he meant to type 1488 before he made his disgusting comments.

    3. Avatar photo Stephen Wakeman says:

      OMG they’re coming here and taking our 5G bandwidth now, as well as our jobs and our women and our…sovereignty is it?

      Let’s hope you leave and that the door hits you proper hard on the way out!

    4. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      like who’d have thought? Certainly not the carriers selling 5g phones to unsuspecting customers eh…

  3. Avatar photo haha says:

    Could it be people are no longer testing due to the slow speeds?

  4. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    The headline ranking if UK networks for speed ranges suggest that Three should rename itself “Five”. Or something else as the original reason for the Three name is becoming irrelevant

  5. Avatar photo Gill Rodgers says:

    I squirt of lemon juice should stop the avacado from browning.

  6. Avatar photo CJ says:

    Median speed will reduce due to increased use of 10MHz of band n28 to provide 5G coverage, compared with earlier deployments that used at least 40MHz of band n78.

    Some networks need to follow Three’s lead and increase their site density but that is expensive and the planning process can be slow and unpredictable.

  7. Avatar photo Mike says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of areas don’t have real 5G but 4G/5G mix (5g with outline on Samsung phones rather than solid background).

    1. Avatar photo Connor says:

      That’s not what that icon means, the outline shows the mast is telling you 5G is available but you’re not connected to the 5G carrier while the solid box tells you that you’re also getting the 5G carrier.

      All deployments currently in the UK outside of trials are 4G/5G hybrid.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Its NSA 5g so it uses 4g bandwidth on the mast anyway.

  8. Avatar photo Andy says:

    Most of the networks don’t have true 5G backhaul, there was an article about this a few weeks back that even though your phone has a 5G signal that 5G signal is to the tower and the backhaul is still 4G based, so it isn’t true 5G in that capacity

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Just like the pretend 5g itself eh Andy. Like BT fibre products on twisted pair still.

  9. Avatar photo Jimbo says:

    I’ve heard from a source that UK mobile providers are struggling to obtain network equipment,as the chip shortage is effecting all types of electronic telecommunications manufacturers.

    Lead times access of 18-24 month’s

    If backhaul not updated to newer equipment 5G suffer in speeds and latency,as time goes on,4G will be faster than 5G

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Trust me, on 3’s network it won’t….lol

  10. Avatar photo Ian says:

    Unsurprising given most mobile operators never built the infrastructure necessary to support consistent LTE speeds let alone 5G.

    They’re all doing it on the cheap and as spectrum fills up with users performance degrades, you often find better sped on HSPA+ frequencies than LTE for this exact reason.

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Totally. The infrastructure isn’t planned out because they’ll just move on to the next number and the marketting team will go on the offensive. Its all smoke and mirrors.

  11. Avatar photo Mike Smith says:

    I regularly get over 100mps download speed on EE 4G so I can’t see any real advantage I would get from 5G, not to mention the larger battery drain and warmer phone.

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      I’ve seen 200mbps on 4g in the early hours, yet less than 1mb at peak times. which speaks volumes.

  12. Avatar photo Somerset says:

    ‘speeds fell by -38.26Mbps’ is an increase.

  13. Avatar photo Adam says:

    Currently at Stratford train station at 5pm and getting 0.95 Mbps on 4g. Definitely a problem

    1. Avatar photo Andrew says:

      I was there at a similar time today and was over 70 – Vodafone.

  14. Avatar photo Michael V says:

    When the four MNOs switch to SA / Stand Alone 5G, speeds will get much better. Then upload won’t rely on 4G LTE-A.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Upload already happens via the 5G band if you’re near a cell tower. At least that’s what Network Signal Guru shows on my phone with a Three SIM.

  15. Avatar photo Michael V says:

    I’ve been with Three for many years. In addition to them having great coverage as they’ve improved a lot over the last 2/3 years, the 5G speeds are great. 300/500+ in places around South Wales

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      must be the only place in the entire country then…

  16. Avatar photo B.A.Baracas says:

    The UK

    Such a useless country we are these days..
    We used to run the world , now we can’t even run a mobile network properly..!!!

    1. Avatar photo Gina Ward says:

      Got it in one …. UK top of the hill at being useless

    2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Used to be good you say, probably when it was owned by the state.

      Now most stuff including telecomms, is owned by foreign entities.

      Try looking at those. It’s a failure of government policy, sure.

    3. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      What government policy? Its like everything else, if there isn’t something “in it for them” then its not worth bothering with these days.

  17. Avatar photo Tommy says:

    Wow, you guys get 5G? lol we’re still getting 5G planning applications refused by Northampton town council. (Especially for Three 5G monopoles) I think its the same in Milton Keynes & other places in the UK.

  18. Avatar photo Angus says:

    I use a Smarty sim (three network) in a ironically a Huawei H112 – 370 CPE 5G pro router and its pulling avg 270Mbps. The highest result I’ve had 1.1Gbps via ethernet cable to pc.
    Currently it just pulled 400Mbps of bandwidth from the sky.
    I stay 7 miles outside Glasgow

    No issue with networking using 5G routet and Threes infrastructure.

  19. Avatar photo Mr. Afrikaans says:

    Please point me in the direction of information regarding this 4G/5G hybrid we operate here in the UK.

  20. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    From what I have heard from different people about the reliability of 5G, I think I will stick with 4G, I can go in buildings and still have signal,

  21. Avatar photo Michael says:

    Unfortunately we’ve got a lot of locations being switched to newer spectrums without backhaul capacity improvements aligned to them.

    I used to live in sidmouth, there’s FTTC and FTTPoD available via Openreach with FTTP planned, Jurassic Fibre already in most Sidmouth locations too. But the masts have a cap of about 10Mbps even when it’s clear LoS to them at the other end of an empty field.
    So in some cases it isn’t the amount of consumption going up reducing speeds for all, as evidenced by the lack of need to rely on 4G/5G for super/ultrafast speeds, it’s just poor capacity planning.

    For the record had this with Three and O2, similar speeds. Could take the same phone to a caravan park in rural Cornwall and pull down like 50Mbps though so not a device issue…

    1. Avatar photo Will says:

      Sidmouth has loads of FTTP available from Openreach, not FTTPoD.

  22. Avatar photo smartroad says:

    I just wish I could get reliable 4G coverage. My phone is either switching back to 3G (where it can given its all beingbswitched off) or I have poor/no signal when I get inside.

    They keep moving on to the next greatest thing, yet what people really need is not speed, but coverage and reliability. I’d bet 4G is fast enough for what most use their phones for, if the signal was just more reliable.

Comments are closed

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