In this blog, we provide an overview of Ofcom’s report on mobile network performance in the UK, created in partnership with Opensignal. The report offers valuable insights into average download and upload speeds, network availability, and data connection success rates for different cellular technologies and mobile network operators (MNOs).
The aim is to present a concise version of the in-depth report, to summarise the insights into mobile network performance in the UK. Whether you are interested in 5G’s rise or want to compare MNO offerings, this is a brief overview of the collected information.
Mobile connectivity is an integral part of daily life, and people rely on their mobile networks for various tasks. To gain insights into people’s experiences using different mobile networks, Ofcom conducted an analysis of crowdsourced data collected between October 2022 and March 2023. This report focuses on the share of data connections across various wireless technologies, the success rates of mobile data connections, download and upload times, response times, and connection speeds. Among the mobile network operators (MNOs), ThreeUK emerges as a leading player with exceptional performance, particularly in 5G.
The Rise of 5G and Dominance of 4G
Ofcom’s report reveals that most of the cellular network usage occurs over 4G, with mobile users being connected to a 4G network for an average of 88% of the time. This speaks to the widespread availability and reliability of 4G connections. With the impending 3G switch-off, MNOs must ensure seamless 4G coverage to support users with older handsets.
5G technology, while not as prevalent as 4G, shows immense promise. Devices connected to 5G for an average of just 4% of the time, but this is expected given that most UK 5G deployments utilise 5G non-standalone (NSA) technology, which only connects to 5G when necessary. However, as MNOs launch 5G standalone access (5G SA) services, 5G usage is expected to increase substantially.
Wi-Fi remains a crucial part of the consumer experience, with mobile users spending an average of 62% of their time connected to Wi-Fi. This suggests that users often prefer to utilise Wi-Fi networks when available, benefiting from faster and more stable connections.
Performance Comparison Across Cellular Technologies
Among cellular technologies, 5G exhibits the highest data connection success rate, with 5G data connections succeeding 98.4% of the time, closely followed by 4G at 97.8% and 3G at 91.3%. The advantage of 5G over 4G becomes more apparent with larger file downloads, with 5G download times being significantly shorter than those of 4G as you’d expect.
5G outshines 4G in terms of download speeds, averaging 129.9 Mbit/s compared to 29.5 Mbit/s on 4G. Moreover, upload speeds on 5G are nearly twice as fast as those on 4G. ThreeUK stands out as the leader in download speeds over 5G, further solidifying its position in the market.
In a comparison of MNOs, ThreeUK emerges as the top performer in several categories. EE customers spend the highest proportion of their time connected to 4G, while O2 customers have the highest Wi-Fi usage. However, ThreeUK customers enjoy the highest 5G download speed and excellent 4G and 3G download speeds.
With 5G and 4G networks, the average data connection success rates were not significantly different by mobile network operator (MNO). However, when looking at 3G networks, O2 data connections were less likely to succeed than those of the other MNOs, with EE and Three customers experiencing the highest connection success rates.
Examining the time taken to download different-sized files over 3G, 4G, and 5G mobile connections was also considered. The analysis reveals that it took around twice as long to download a 2MB file on a 4G network than on a 5G network and more than four times longer on a 3G network than over 4G. The average time to download a 2MB file was longer in rural areas than in urban ones over all three mobile technologies, although the difference was only small over 5G and 4G. Across the UK nations, there was little variation in the average time to download a 2MB file over 5G and 4G; however, the differences were more marked for 3G, with Scotland having the shortest time to download a 2MB file and Northern Ireland and Wales having the longest times.
Further analyses are conducted on the time to download 5MB and 10MB files, and the time to upload a 1MB file. Additionally, the report examines response time (latency) and connection speeds (download speeds) on 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, presenting valuable insights into the overall mobile network performance in the UK.
Connection: Download and upload speeds
The analysis of mobile network connection speeds reveals interesting findings regarding download and upload speeds across different cellular technologies and mobile network operators (MNOs).
Looking at MNO performance, Three stood out with the fastest average 5G download speed, while O2 had the slowest. EE had the fastest average 4G download speed, outpacing other MNOs, while O2 recorded the slowest speed at 18.8 Mbit/s, less than half of EE’s speed. EE and Three shared the joint-fastest average 3G download speeds, while O2 and Vodafone had the joint-slowest.
In terms of upload speeds, time-based tests showcased that 5G achieved an average of 14.7 Mbit/s, almost double that of 4G at 7.6 Mbit/s, and 3G had an average of 2.0 Mbit/s. Northern Ireland and Wales shared the slowest average 5G upload speeds, while England displayed the fastest average upload speed over 4G. No significant differences were observed in 3G upload speeds among the UK nations, and average urban upload speeds outperformed rural areas across all three cellular technologies.
Among the MNOs, Three customers experienced the fastest 5G upload speed with EE. On the other hand, O2 customers encountered the slowest upload speeds over 5G and 4G.
This comprehensive analysis presents a clear picture of mobile network performance in the UK, with 5G leading in download and upload speeds, and specific MNOs standing out in different performance categories.
To summarise the above findings, it is clear to see that Gamma Mobile, powered by Three, is an excellent option for businesses seeking to capitalise on mobile technology. The analysis of mobile network performance highlights that Three consistently ranks among the top performers, offering fast and reliable 5G download speeds, ensuring seamless access to data-intensive applications and enhancing productivity. With upload speeds almost twice as fast as 4G, businesses can efficiently share files and multimedia, enabling effective communication and collaboration. Gamma Mobile’s partnership with Three ensures extensive network reach, providing consistent connectivity across various UK locations. Coupled with a customer-centric approach, it guarantees a seamless user experience, allowing businesses to focus on their core operations without worrying about network issues.
Find out how it can provide the foundations for businesses to effectively leverage mobile technology and gain a competitive edge in today’s dynamic business landscape.
Technical Methodology of the report:
Ofcom collected measurements from real mobile users to measure mobile network performance and consumer experience. The data collection framework and panel were developed and managed by Opensignal Limited, and data was licensed to Ofcom. The data collection process included measurements from smartphones collected every day, both indoors and outdoors. The measurements were based on user-initiated and automated tests to ensure a representative and accurate evaluation of network performance.
The statistical analysis for the 2023 Mobile Matters report was based on crowdsourced data from Opensignal’s panel between October 2022 and March 2023. The sample sizes were sufficient to ensure robust findings, and the sample distribution was aligned with the population distribution of the UK and the relative shares of mobile network operators. Confidence intervals were created using bootstrapping, and two-tailed statistical tests were conducted to compare metrics by different factors, such as cellular technology, MNO, nation, and rurality.