Big improvements in “Everyday 5G” for UK subscribers

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

May 28, 2021

via Flickr © stevepaustin (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © stevepaustin (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Consumer experience on the up-and-up in Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry and London 
  • Other cities expected to reflect continuing improvement
  • EE network the best overall, but then it was first to market
  • O2 at the bottom of the league, but it was last to market

In the UK, billowing clouds of fuggy hype continue to swirl around 5G and it can be difficult to make out what is real and what is a carefully contrived PR mirage. That's why it is interesting today to be able to report on the findings of the latest report from IHS Markit RootMetrics. Its May 5G scorecard looks at what it calls "Everyday" 5G availability and speed results across four English cities, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry and London over the first half of 2021.

In a series of maps the report also shows "5G-only results and overall median download speeds recorded on all network technologies." While less comprehensive in terms of geographical coverage than earlier scorecards which addressed results from 16 cities across the length and breadth of the entire UK, the latest snapshot gives valuable insight to mobile network performance as real-world commercial 5G services become increasingly available in one form or another.

This includes an examination of 5G performance that encapsulates the increasingly common user experience of having to toggle between 5G-only and “5G mixed mode,”(in other words, 4G LTE) whilst using data services and apps. By combining 5G-only stats with 5G mixed mode details IHS Markit RootMetrics has come up with the "Everyday 5G" results that, the company claims, "show the most accurate view of a user's typical experience when connected to 5G for any amount of time."

In essence the report shows that, over the half year under survey, EE had the highest Everyday 5G availability in three of the four cities covered in the research and provided the fastest Everyday 5G median download speed in three cities. Meanwhile, O2 was shown to provide excellent Everyday 5G median download speeds but was let down by its late entry to the market and consequent limited availability in Bristol where its coverage rate is an unimpressive 28.6 per cent.

As for Three, the verdict is that while Everyday median download speeds weren't bad, they weren't that great either, clocking-in as slower than its rival 5G operators in all four cities. That said, Three’s Everyday 5G availability in Birmingham has improved markedly and now sits at 47.4 per cent, putting it in second place behind EE. Vodafone got a "null point" score in Coventry where it has no discernible 5G service yet but its Everyday 5G speeds were good in Birmingham, Bristol and London, where they were within a range of 121.9 Mbps to 143.8 Mbps. What's more, Voda's Everyday 5G availability score of 48.5 per cent in Bristol is very good to verging on excellent and knocked EE into second place on the list.

Bristol is proving to be a 5G proving ground

Overall EE tops the 5G table again, as the new report shows, but that is only to be expected given that it was the first operator to offer 5G in Britain and recently spent close to half a billion pounds on securing additional 5G spectrum so that it now holds a lot more than its three rivals.

EE now provides the best and widest coverage in Coventry, Birmingham and London but is runner-up to Vodafone in trendy Bristol. However, EE's Everyday 5G availability there has risen from 36.1 per cent  to 46.2 per cent since the start of the year and its Everyday 5G median download speed jumped by 32.7 Mbps, from 94.4 Mbps to 127.1 Mbps since January this year. The race is on.

Staying in the West Country, O2 registered its greatest 5G improvement in Bristol going from recording a zero presence during the second half of 2020 to 28.6 per cent availability in the first half of 2021 with an Everyday 5G median download speed of 106.2 Mbps. Currently Bristol is very much a test-bed and proving ground for 5G. It is a relatively compact city with urban sprawl to the west being constrained by the Avon Gorge and the River Avon that flows through it, Leigh Woods and the parklands of the Ashton Court Estate. Vodafone too is making strong progress in the city where its Everyday 5G availability grew from 34.3 per cent at the end of the second half of last year to 2H 2020 to 48.5 per cent now while its Everyday 5G median download speed rose from 105.7 Mbps to 122.4.

Meanwhile, up in Coventry in the English Midlands, Three's Everyday 5G coverage has increased by 17.6 per cent over the past six months and has moved from 10.8 per cent to 28.4 per cent. Despite its earlier limited coverage, Three’s Everyday 5G median download speed was good and has got better, rising from100.8 Mbps to 119.0 Mbps. The operator is now in second place in Birmingham and London as well as in Coventry.

As far as the national capital, London, is concerned, O2, was very late to the 5G party and it shows. It came bottom of the rankings for Everyday 5G availability there just as it did in Birmingham and Coventry. However, it did achieve the fastest overall speeds in the parts of the capital where it is available, averaging 154.9 Mbps and  was joint first place in Birmingham. It is also adding to its spectrum portfolio a bit at a time and here and there and recently won bids for some plum mid- and low-band slots in the last auction held by the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom. Also in O2's favour is the fact that there is no Huawei equipment anywhere in its core network so there'll be none of the costly "rip out and replace" that its competitors face.

IHS Markit RootMetrics' next 5G scorecard will survey 16 cities and provide a clearer overview of what is happening on a wider national canvas.

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.