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Ofcom Publish Benchmarks of UK 5G, 4G and 3G Mobile Networks

Friday, Jul 21st, 2023 (8:31 am) - Score 5,552
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Ofcom has published its 2023 Mobile Matters report, which uses Opensignal’s crowdsourced data (collected between 1st October 2022 and 31st March 2023) to benchmark the performance of UK mobile data (mobile broadband) networks by both technology (3G, 4G and 5G) and operator choice – including Three UK, O2, Vodafone and EE.

The results hold few surprises, but they do still reveal some interesting details. For example, most cellular network use (88%) is still over 4G, but when people need to use 5G – where there is coverage – they are more likely to be able to connect (98.4% success rate) than 4G (97.8%) or 3G (91.3%). Elsewhere, mobile users spend an average of 62.3% of their time using Wi-Fi instead of mobile data.

On average, 5G users spent 10.1% of their time connected to a 5G network, which reflects the fact that 5G users were connected to a 4G network for most of the time (84.3%), with a further 4.2% of their time being spent on 3G and 0.6% on 2G (for 0.8% of the time 5G users were without a cellular connection).

Mobile download speeds were also the fastest over 5G, averaging 129.9Mbps in the period, which compares to averages of 29.5Mbps over 4G and 5.9Mbps on ancient 3G connections. But average upload speeds over 5G (14.7Mbps) were only twice those over 4G (7.6Mbps), while 3G upload speeds averaged just 2Mbps – this is largely because 5G upstream is still being hobbled by some 4G based infrastructure.

As for the mobile network operators – Three UK delivered the fastest average 5G download speed, while O2 were the slowest and EE’s average was faster than Vodafone’s. O2 also had the slowest average 4G downloads, at 18.8Mbps, less than half the 44.1Mbps average recorded by EE (they had the fastest 4G download speed among the MNOs). EE and Three had the joint-fastest average 3G downloads and O2 and Vodafone the joint-slowest

Ofcom-UK-Mobile-Broadband-Speeds-by-MNO-2023

We’ve summarised some of the report’s other findings below.

Ofcom’s Mobile Matters 2023 Results

Network share

• Most cellular network use was over 4G. Mobile users were connected to a 4G network for an average of 88% of the time and were without any cellular connection for around 1% of the time.

• Mobile users spent an average of 6% of the time connected to 3G. As mobile network providers prepare for 3G switch off, they will need to ensure broadly the same 4G coverage as 3G and support mobile users who need an updated handset in order to minimise disruption.

• Time spent on 5G was comparatively low. With the technology used in most current UK 5G deployments (5G non-standalone), devices only connect to 5G when a data connection is needed. As a result, mobile users were connected to 5G for an average of just 4% of the time (10% among 5G users).

• Wi-Fi continues to be a fundamental part of the consumer experience. Mobile users spent an average of 62% of their time connected to Wi-Fi.

Comparison of cellular technologies

• Cellular network data connection success rates were highest on 5G. Looking at connection success rates when someone was actively using their phone in a coverage area, 5G data connections succeeded 98.4% of the time, compared to 97.8% for 4G and 91.3% for 3G.

• Download times for 2MB files were much shorter over 5G and 4G than 3G. On average, it took around twice as long to download a 2MB file on a 4G network than on a 5G network (0.8s vs 0.4s) and 2MB file download times on 3G (3.6s) were more than four-times longer than those over 4G.

• The benefit of 5G over 4G was more apparent with larger file downloads. A 5MB download over 5G was, on average, 56% shorter than over 4G. This compared to average 5G 2MB download times being 46% shorter than those over 4G.

• Upload times for 1MB files were shortest on 5G networks. Looking at the experience of uploading files, the average time to upload a 1MB file was shortest over 5G (0.7s) and longest on 3G (3.6s).

• Download speeds were more than four times higher on 5G than on 4G. We also analysed download speeds measured using tests that consume as much data as the connection can download over the duration of the test. These showed that download speeds were fastest over 5G, averaging 129.9 Mbit/s compared to 29.5 Mbit/s over 4G and 5.9 Mbit/s on 3G.

• Average upload speeds over 5G were almost twice those recorded on 4G networks. 5G upload speeds averaged 14.7 Mbit/s, compared to 7.6 Mbit/s over 4G and 2.0 Mbit/s on 3G.

MNO comparisons

• EE customers spent the highest proportion of their time connected to 4G. The proportion of time that mobile users spent connected to 4G ranged from 84% for O2 customers to 91% for EE customers. O2 customers spent the highest proportion of their time connected to Wi-Fi (67%).

• There were no differences in average 5G and 4G data connection success rates by MNO. However, EE and Three customers had the highest average 3G connection success rates and O2 3G data connections were less likely to succeed than those of the other MNOs.

• O2 customers had the longest average file download times. The time taken to download a 2MB or 5MB file on O2 was longer than the other MNOs’ download times for 5G, 4G and 3G.

• The average response time was significantly better on EE than the other MNOs’ networks. EE’s average response times (latency) were the fastest among the MNOs for all cellular technologies (18ms on 5G and 4G, and 29ms on 3G). O2 had the slowest 5G and 3G response times (22ms and 47ms respectively) and Vodafone the slowest 4G response time (24ms).

• O2 customers experienced the slowest average download speeds over 5G and 4G networks (74Mbit/s and 19Mbit/s respectively). O2 was also joint-slowest with Vodafone for 3G download speeds (5Mbit/s). Three had the fastest average 5G download speed (235Mbit/s) and EE was quickest over 4G (44Mbit/s), and EE and Three had the joint-fastest average 3G download speeds (7Mbit/s).

• EE customers had the fastest average 4G and 3G upload speeds (9Mbit/s and 3Mbit/s respectively) and were joint-fastest with Three for 5G (17Mbit/s). O2 customers experienced the slowest 5G and 4G upload speeds (10Mbit/s and 5Mbit/s respectively) and Three was slowest over 3G (2Mbit/s).

Comparisons by nation/rurality

• People in Northern Ireland spent the highest proportion of time connected to Wi-Fi. The proportion of time that people spent connected to a Wi-Fi network was 66% in Northern Ireland, compared to 62% in each of the other nations.

• There were no differences in 5G and 4G data connection success rates by nation and rurality. However, the average 3G connection success rate was higher in urban areas than in rural ones and lower in Wales than in the other UK nations.

• Variations in 5G and 4G 2MB file download times by nation and rurality were only small. The differences were more marked for 3G, with Scotland having the shortest time to download a 2MB file and Northern Ireland and Wales the longest times.

• Wales had the fastest average 5G download speed and England the quickest 4G download speed. There were no significant differences between 3G download speeds across the UK nations.

• Northern Ireland had the slowest average 5G upload speed and was joint-slowest with Wales for 4G. England had the fastest average upload speed over 4G and there were no differences in 3G upload speeds across the UK nations.

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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
22 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andy says:

    So it’s now official – O2 is the worst of the networks. We always knew that but it is good that it is now proved. Also, Vodafone and Three are very much alike for 4G so if they merge, there will be no differences except for the 5G.

    1. Avatar photo Mike says:

      No. If Vodafone and Three merge they will benefit of bigger combined spectrum which will benefit both 4G and 5G.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      If they have the backhaul, which they don’t.

    3. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Mike, there’s no way the new network is allowed to keep their current spectrum. They would have too much of it. Some will have to be sold to other networks or made available for a new 4th network.

    4. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @Mike, the problem there is that Vodafone is an awful company and have awful customer service, just like Bt. they are also overpriced and if combine prices will increase, again just like BT, these companies when they get too big, have little competition and can charge what they want.

  2. Avatar photo Jonathan says:

    One thing I would like to see Ofcom pushing the operators on more is the removal of 5MHz 4G channels; co-ordinating an effort between operators to swap spectrum where needed to benefit all the operators and their customers overall.

    This will provide a better experience for end-users. Currently, on EE for example, one minute you can be on 2x20MHz paired 4G channels in 2CA with headline 4G performance, and then move a bit further from the mast and drop down to a 1x5MHz paired 4G channel which can barely support VoLTE in a congested area. The 4G indicator therefore doesn’t mean much to the end user in terms of expected performance and gives 4G deployment in the UK a bad reputation globally.

    1. Avatar photo Declan M says:

      You’re spot on Jonathan in my area it constantly drops to the cell with 5mhz capacity and struggle to make a call with 2 bars of signal strength with EE.

    2. Avatar photo x_term says:

      Totally agree. If the regulators allow 3/vf merger they HAVE TO reshuffle spectrum. No other european developed country has a mess and imbalance like I saw in the UK. Also, I don’t understand why EE hasn’t deployed B28 with DSS, instead of doing NR only. Without a low frequency LTE layer to anchor on for N28, what’s the use for it? Unless they get out fast with 5G SA.

    3. Avatar photo CJ says:

      Most 5G devices in use today have modems which are not capable aggregating two low frequency carriers, on 4G + 4G or 4G + 5G.

      The current use for n28 is to cover the area served by multiple existing masts quickly, without having to add 5G equipment to all of them. The 4G anchor signal for 5G NSA doesn’t have to come from the same mast as the 5G signal, it can be any 4G mast within range.

      O2 does this too.

      It’s slow because one 5G n28 carrier is handling traffic from multiple surrounding 4G cells. But it looks good on the 5G coverage map which is ultimately the reason why they do it.

  3. Avatar photo Obi says:

    “ O2 customers spent the highest proportion of their time connected to Wi-Fi” Ouch, just reflects how poor their network is.

    1. Avatar photo 4chAnon says:

      Yeah, definitely the first thing I thought as well. I actively avoid public WiFi; O2 customers probably don’t have the luxury for that.

    2. Avatar photo CJ says:

      They are probably just following O2’s advice. Their network status checker often recommends using Wi-Fi instead of their congested mobile network.

    3. Avatar photo JF says:

      Yer I left o2 for EE as o2 started sharing rural mast sites with vodafone and conjested up the network even more

      The other strange thing is that all the ee masts in the area have 3 listed on planning permission but no three signal comes from the masts

    4. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      EE and Three have (or had) a JV for mast building, so all documentation for planning probably referred to both, but that wouldn’t mean that every mast is actually connected to both, as the two companies were still able to do their own thing at specific sites.

  4. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Good god, this shows how pointless NSA 5g is IMHO. Mobile download speeds were also the fastest over 5G, averaging 129.9Mbps in the period….I’ve seen far faster on 4g, which speaks volumes.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      And then you have areas where Three’s 5G gives you 500-1200Mbps with 5G NSA. It could be better, but it’s not pointless.

      Also consider that 5G doesn’t mean “fast”. Even with 5G SA, the long range bands usually used in less dense areas won’t perform like n78.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      If 5g gave 500mbps+ everywhere it wouldn’t be pointless. But it no where near does that.

    3. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Buggerlugz, I think you have the wrong idea about what 5G is and how it works.

      Bands have a certain capacity and range, and 5G doesn’t break physics or economics. To have very fast speeds, you need a high band like n78, which gives you great speeds, but don’t have long ranges. Base coverage and coverage where there aren’t enough customers (rural) will be on the slower, but long range bands (eg: n28). This is true for 5G just like it is for 4G.

      If 5G NSA is pointless because you can’t get 500Mbps everywhere, then so is 5G SA because it doesn’t have magical powers. Without more cell towers and better backhaul, 5G SA can’t deliver what you expect.

      Some of the benefits of 5G are not even for you, but for the networks (lower power consumption, possibility of electronically focusing capacity in a certain area without touching the hardware, etc). It lets them do more.

  5. Avatar photo Anon says:

    Let’s see if this changes when VMO2 roll out their 5G SA next year. I’m sure the other networks will follow suit too.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Vodafone is already rolling out their 5G SA network, so O2 is also behind on that.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      As well as EE and Three… It’s just bragging rights for whoever rolls it out first.

  6. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    5G users spent 10.1% of their time connected to a 5G network, which reflects the fact that 5G users were connected to a 4G network for most of the time (84.3%),

    that is because 5G is still a load of rubbish.

Comments are closed

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