Mobile competition intensifies but EE still leads way, claims study


The new Mobile Performance Review report for the first half of 2021 from RootMetrics by IHS Markit has revealed intensifying competition among the UK’s mobile operators.

EE remains the operator to beat across all levels of testing, Vodafone improved in multiple areas and Virgin Media O2 ranked first in a performance category at the UK-wide level for the very first time.

RootMetrics conducts the most comprehensive and scientific independent testing of mobile networks in the UK to gain a picture of the consumer’s typical experience when using data, call and text services. In the first half of 2021, the benchmarking firm carried out more than 600,000 tests in 16 cities and over 750 locations across the UK.

EE ahead of the pack

Whether across the UK as a whole, at the national level or within major cities, EE was the standout performer. Taking home UK RootScore Awards for overall performance, reliability, speed, plus data, call and text performance, the operator was also very strong in metropolitan areas, providing users across the UK with great service in general. EE delivered the fastest median download speed (across all network technologies) in every city, while offering impressive Everyday 5G availability and speeds. In short, EE users should be able to access content very quickly, especially when on 5G.

Three delivered particularly good text results during RootMetrics testing, and Three users will be encouraged to learn that the operator’s speeds improved since 2H 2020. Three delivered median download speeds above 30 Mbps in three cities in 1H 2021, a jump from zero in 2H 2020. Three’s lower-end speeds improved as well. In the second half of 2020, for instance, Three recorded median download speeds below 20 Mbps in 13 out of 16 cities. This time, however, that number improved to four. In effect, Three’s users should see faster speeds compared to those in 2H 2020 and have faster access to content and entertainment.

Three’s 5G performance has also shown encouraging progress. Its Everyday 5G availability improved in nearly every city tested, and its Everyday 5G median download speeds increased in most cities. Given that Three has the most mid-band spectrum of any operator at its disposal, its subscribers could see faster speeds going forward.

Virgin Media O2 improving, with fast 5G speeds

Newly merged Virgin Media O2 showed strong improvements in general. The operator performed particularly well in the network accessibility category, with Virgin Media O2 winning the Network Accessibility RootScore Award in UK-wide testing, its first-ever award at the UK-wide level.

Virgin Media O2 also took home the most accessibility awards in nation testing (two across the four nations), while winning or sharing awards for accessibility in 11 out of 16 cities. The operator also improved its rankings in UK-wide testing in the categories of overall performance, network reliability and call performance. Virgin Media O2 also delivered fast overall median download speeds in most cities, and its Everyday 5G median download speeds were particularly strong, providing its users with fast file downloads and smooth streaming, among other things.

Although it’s too early to predict what the recent merger will do for its overall network performance, the operator has shown significant momentum since 2H 2020.  

Vodafone shows significant improvement in UK-wide testing

Vodafone customers will be pleased to learn that the operator showed good progress in UK-wide testing in the first half of 2021, taking home three UK RootScore Awards, up from one in 2H 2020. Vodafone tied for first with EE for network reliability, call performance and text performance. The first two results will be particularly welcome for users who might be working on the move as they return to the office. Vodafone also performed well in major cities, delivering fast speeds and excellent reliability, as well as a better Everyday 5G experience compared to what RootMetrics found in 2H 2020.

Vodafone’s 5G was especially strong in Glasgow, where the operator clocked the fastest Everyday 5G median download speed of any operator in 1H 2021 at 192.2 Mbps. At that speed, end users could download a 600MB video from Netflix in less than 30 seconds.  As Vodafone and other operators continue to improve their 5G experience, consumers and businesses alike should benefit from faster speeds and better connectivity in general.

Commenting on the results, Patrick Linder, Chief Marketing Officer at RootMetrics by IHS Markit, said:

“In the first half of 2021, we saw an already dynamic mobile landscape in the UK continue to evolve and improve. End users will be pleased to see all four main operators improving their performance, particularly when it comes to 5G availability and speed. With the availability of 5G continuing to grow and all four major operators providing users with Everyday 5G median download speeds above 100 Mbps in nearly every city we tested, the providers are clearly making good progress in terms of delivering the key combination of both widespread availability plus fast speeds.

While EE was the clear standout in the first half of the year, the improvements we saw from the other operators shouldn’t be overlooked. As the competitive landscape becomes more intense and level over time, end users should continue to benefit from better mobile performance.”

The full 1H 2021 Mobile Performance in Review report can be found here.

Chris Price
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