5G in the United Kingdom is Getting Faster and Boosting Consumer Sentiment
More and more communities are gaining access to 5G networks and speeds in the United Kingdom as operators expand 5G deployments across the nation. 3’s 5G network covers 30% of the “outdoor population”, Vodafone offers 5G service to 123 towns and cities, O2 has 5G in over 180 towns and cities and EE plans on having 5G provide “signal to over 90% of UK landmass” by 2028. Despite this progress, London achieved mediocre 5G speeds compared to other world capitals in our recent analysis.
Our 2020 U.K. report showed disparate 5G access across the U.K. despite improved speeds. So we used data from Ookla® Speedtest Intelligence® to examine Q1-Q2 2021 performance in the U.K. to see how 5G compares with major trading partners, how 5G is boosting speeds, which top operators have the fastest 5G and highest availability, how consumers are rating their network experience, what each U.K. country’s 5G performance and availability is, and the fastest cities in the U.K. for 5G.
The U.K. is ahead of European trade partners for 5G, can’t beat South Korea and China
Speedtest Intelligence found South Korea and China had the fastest median 5G download speeds among the U.K’s top trading partners at 440.53 Mbps and 302.78 Mbps, respectively, during Q1-Q2 2021. The U.K. had the next fastest download speed on the list at 167.38 Mbps, edging out Japan (163.68 Mbps). The United States had the slowest 5G download speed among the U.K.’s top trading partners with a median of 81.04 Mbps. China had the fastest median 5G upload speed on the list at 46.31 Mbps, followed by South Korea (41.79 Mbps) and the Netherlands (33.16 Mbps). Upload speed in the U.K. lagged behind every other top trading partner except France at 15.91 Mbps.
The U.K. is far behind trading partners for 5G Availability
Speedtest Intelligence shows a wide divide between 5G Availability in these nations during Q1-Q2 2021. The U.S. led the way with 49.5% of consumers with 5G capable devices experiencing 5G connections a majority of the time. The Netherlands was second at 44.0% and South Korea third at 40.4%. The U.K. landed squarely in the middle of the list with 10.2% 5G Availability.
5G is helping to lift stagnant mobile download speeds
Q1-Q2 2021 marked a noticeable upward trend in median download speed over all technologies in the U.K. after two years of stagnant speeds. Q1-Q2 2019 started at 21.44 Mbps and speeds began rising as late as Q3-Q4 2020 to 23.60 Mbps before further increasing to 29.96 Mbps in Q1-Q2 2021. During this same period, 4G LTE download speeds remained nearly constant: starting at 23.50 Mbps in Q1-Q2 2019 and decreasing slightly over time to 23.01 Mbps during Q1-Q2 2021.
This boost in the U.K. during Q1-Q2 2021 is due to a giant surge in consumers switching to 5G service. According to Speedtest Intelligence, nearly seventy thousand more customers performed a Speedtest® over 5G in Q1-Q2 2021 than in Q3-Q4 2020. 5G is inherently faster, which boosts median download speeds and we suspect speeds will continue to improve as network operators continue to build out their 5G networks to reach more and more customers.
3 had the fastest median 5G download speed in the U.K., EE had the highest 5G Availability
Speedtest Intelligence revealed a decisive win for U.K. operator 3 during Q1-Q2 2021, with a median 5G download speed of 231.07 Mbps. Vodafone followed at 159.49 Mbps, O2 was next at 155.54 Mbps and EE last at 151.03 Mbps. Vodafone had the fastest median 5G upload at 19.69 Mbps during Q1-Q2 2021, followed by EE (18.42 Mbps), 3 (13.65 Mbps) and O2 (11.74 Mbps).
EE had the best 5G Availability at 17.9%. Vodafone was next at 10.3%, 3 followed (6.4%) and O2 was last (5.4%).
Consumers in the U.K. on 5G are more satisfied with their provider than those on 4G
Speedtest Consumer Sentiment™ gauges customer satisfaction with their mobile operator’s service. After users take a Speedtest, we ask them how likely they are to recommend their provider to friends or family on a 0 to 10 scale. These Net Promoter Score (NPS) ratings are categorized into Detractors (score 0-6), Passives (score 7-8), and Promoters (score 9-10). NPS is calculated as (% Promoters – % Detractors) x 100. Any NPS score above 0 indicates that a provider’s audience is more loyal than not.
During Q1-Q2 2021, EE received the only positive NPS among mobile operators at 10.82. O2 followed at -13.72, Vodafone was next at -14.97 and 3 was last at -18.09.
When we split NPS out by the technology users were on when they responded, those numbers all shifted negatively for users on 4G LTE, with EE shifting into negative territory (-1.27 from 10.82), O2 dropping slightly (-19.37 from -13.72), while Vodafone dropped from -14.97 to -23.25 and 3 dropped from -18.09 to -31.86.
When looking at NPS scores only from 5G results, NPS improves enormously for every operator, with EE earning an NPS of 43.40, which was followed by O2 (40.45), 3 (34.82) and Vodafone (28.30). It’s clear: consumers using 5G are much happier with their mobile experience.
Scotland had the fastest 5G download speed among U.K. countries, England had the highest 5G Availability
Scotland had the fastest median 5G speeds in the U.K. during Q1-Q2 2021 at 178.30 Mbps download and 17.18 Mbps upload. Northern Ireland followed at 166.57 Mbps (15.67 Mbps upload) along with Wales at 166.04 Mbps (15.83 Mbps upload). England, which has a much higher 5G usage, had a median 5G download speed of 165.42 Mbps (15.81 Mbps upload).
England led for 5G Availability among U.K. countries at 10.9%. Northern Ireland followed at 7.8%, Scotland was next at 5.3% and Wales was last at 4.4%.
3 had the fastest 5G download speeds in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. EE had the best 5G Availability in England
Mobile operator 3 achieved the fastest median 5G download speeds in three U.K. countries during Q1-Q2 2021: England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Utilizing C-band spectrum across the U.K., 3 achieved median 5G download speeds of 232.39 Mbps in England, 379.41 Mbps in Northern Ireland and 220.10 Mbps in Scotland. Wales didn’t reach our statistical threshold for analysis.
Vodafone had the fastest median upload speeds in England (19.68 Mbps). Scotland was too close to call, though Vodafone had a median upload speed of 21.23 Mbps while EE was at 20.71 Mbps. Northern Ireland was also too close to call for median upload speed with 3 at 20.16 Mbps and EE at 20.08 Mbps.
EE had the highest 5G Availability in England at 19.5%, while Scotland was too close to call. Northern Ireland and Wales showed too few samples to be analyzed for 5G Availability.
Glasgow had the fastest 5G among the U.K.’s major cities during Q1-Q2 2021
Examining 5G performance in 10 major cities in the U.K. during Q1-Q2 2021, Speedtest Intelligence revealed Glasgow had the fastest median 5G download at 208.80 Mbps. Manchester had the second fastest download on this list at 192.24 Mbps, followed by Liverpool. Sheffield had the slowest 5G download. London’s median 5G download speed trailed most major cities at 167.50 Mbps.
There was no statistically fastest upload speed among the U.K.’s major cities, though Glasgow and Manchester led at 21.43 Mbps and 20.60 Mbps, respectively.
Future of 5G experience in the U.K.
While the arrival of 5G in the U.K. has brought faster speeds to consumers, we’re also seeing an acceleration in moves by the government and network operators to drive further improvements in network coverage and performance.
In March 2021, Ofcom awarded spectrum via auction in the 700 MHz and 3.6-3.8 GHz bands, with EE, O2 and Vodafone all increasing their C-band spectrum holdings, and 3, EE and O2 winning spectrum in the 700 MHz band. The award of the U.K.’s remaining C-band spectrum to mobile operators will help boost 5G performance, and Ofcom has allowed them to trade spectrum in order to help defragment U.K. operators’ C-band holdings. Shortly after the auction, O2 and Vodafone announced they had reached a spectrum trading deal resulting in holdings that are closer and/or contiguous and therefore offer greater performance.
The allocation of the U.K.’s 700 MHz spectrum band, with its superior propagation properties, will be critical in helping the government deliver on its promise of majority (U.K. population) 5G coverage by 2027. In addition, the government has proposed changes to laws in England which seek to speed up network deployment and increase coverage. These include allowing increases to cell mast height and width, the use of building-based sites closer to highways and relaxing rules on the placement of radio equipment cabinets.
Spectrum refarming will be incredibly important for the U.K. as operators begin to sunset spectrum in favor of 5G, but until that happens, we suspect 5G speeds won’t accelerate at the same rate we’ve seen in other countries like South Korea and China.
Until then, we’ll be closely monitoring data in the U.K. and seeing how operators continue to improve their networks and expand 5G access. Do you want to see how your operator performs against the data we found? Download the Android or iOS Speedtest app, and take a Speedtest®.