After receiving my 4G-enabled SIM card from Three UK – ahead of the activation of all users planned to be completed by mid-February, I headed into London to do some testing – which has resulted in an epic video over 40 minutes long, and loads of data to go through and digest!

Doing more than one test seemed the only fair way to allow for fluctuations (some examples of which are seen in the video) but it made the video long. The video does, however, show that some speeds peaked above where they ended up.

Tests were done for Three, EE and O2, in the following order: Three 4G, Three 3G, EE 4G, EE 3G, finishing up with O2 (4G only).

I had various issues with O2’s network, which were unfortunate and quite damaging for O2 as a network trying to shake off a reputation for poor data speeds as it is.

Rather than delay testing until I could get a Vodafone 4G-enabled SIM, I opted to leave the network out this time around.

The testing was done at London King’s Cross station, Old Street Roundabout, Tottenham Court Road and along Oxford Street.

There are a few caveats to be aware of:

  • The testing wasn’t scientific in any way. Different handsets, many tests done at different times etc…
  • I didn’t know the locations of any transmitters, so moving even a relatively small distance would have quite possibly changed the outcome of the tests – but few people in the ‘real world’ will want to hunt around for the best signal when using data.
  • I didn’t cover all of London by any stretch of the imagination, but rather opted to pick a few central London locations that might be representative of normal usage. There are only so many hours in the day!
  • Due to Three’s initially limited coverage area, I didn’t go outside of central London to do any rural testing. As such, I wasn’t able to see how each network copes in less congested areas.
  • For the O2 test, despite the (bigger) network related problems, the test was done using a different application (and on another operating system) so if the numbers had been closer, it might still be difficult to make an accurate comparison.
  • These were simply speed tests, and in the future I will do more specific tests of, say, loading a YouTube video or downloading a file.

Of course, I’ll be doing more tests over the coming months, so this is just the beginning (evil laugh!). However, I might skip doing more lengthy videos for the sake of my sanity – and yours.

Anyway, enjoy the video (you might wish to watch at double speed), or if you just can’t face it – look underneath for my summary table.

Where relevant, I’ve highlighted the fastest speeds (and lowest ping times) in bold.

Speed test results

King’s Cross Station
Ping (ms) DL (Mbps) UL (Mbps) Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
Three 4G 38 9.02 3.20 47 11.32 4.39 50 9.46 4.26
Three 3G 67 5.10 2.33 651 5.94 2.14 49 2.80 2.27
EE 4G 37 28.91 24.92 36 32.85 27.19 42 25.00 32.71
EE 3G 83 6.10 1.70 116 4.38 1.78 67 3.47 1.80
O2 4G 2G (EDGE) – Not tested

Old Street Roundabout
Ping DL UL Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
Three 4G 42 19.83 21.90 49 16.54 22.27 46 17.79 22.44
Three 3G 63 6.27 2.28 61 7.45 1.78 62 8.24 1.64
EE 4G 50 25.96 13.28 53 20.54 22.81 47 18.80 23.03
EE 3G 64 5.18 1.77 90 Failed Failed 72 1.32 1.63
O2 4G 113 16.69 9.26 103 18.17 10.47 91 17.78 9.64
Three 4G Three 3G EE 4G
Ping DL UL Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
Test 1 47 17.65 18.08 54 4.56 1.95 47 18.44 18.07
Test 2 45 19.59 17.05 867 2.53 1.63 48 18.69 29.82
Test 3 41 18.59 17.04 854 4.72 2.24 42 12.70 2.87
Test 4 38 20.88 14.87 Not tested 52 14.28 17.87

Tottenham Court Road
Ping DL UL Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
Three 4G 45 7.58 22.24 46 7.34 22.12 50 9.20 21.83
Three 3G 98 1.40 0.18 94 1.10 0.00 101 0.53 0.19
EE 4G 34 5.23 14.84 48 8.40 2.52 69 7.56 1.81
EE 3G 118 0.38 0.21 109 0.37 0.48 63 0.46 1.30
O2 4G 546 4.35 Failed Not tested

Oxford Street – EE Store
(between Tottenham Court Road & Oxford Circus)
Ping DL UL
Three 4G 42 27.24 23.13
EE 4G 34 21.82 19.18

Oxford Street – EE & Three stores
(Oxford Circus)
Ping DL UL
Three 4G 48 6.87 2.28
EE 4G 69 17.40 0.06
Three 4G EE 4G
Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
Test 1 49 8.01 4.89 65 2.78 3.73
Three 3G EE 3G
Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
Test 1 48 9.51 0.37 127 1.62 0.13
Ping DL UL Ping DL UL Ping DL UL
O2 4G 53 10.06 8.56 55 5.70 6.80 67 5.63 4.53

King’s Cross Station (Underground – Wi-Fi)
Ping DL UL
Virgin 18 38.22 43.57

One conclusion I can draw from the testing is that 4G in London varies a lot – as London is clearly very busy and congested. Some of the slow speeds may well be attributed to slow backhauls, which each network will need to heavily invest in going forward.

Many users may look at the data above, especially Three users already enjoying a network almost fully DC-HSPA enabled, and think that 3G can often outperform those numbers. And they’d be right, except that the 3G speeds were way down on what I’ve experienced – so 4G is still a step up.

Perhaps the biggest improvement for Three users will therefore be from the hugely increased upload speeds. For uploading videos to YouTube, for example, the savings in time will be incredible.

And when push comes to shove, there’s one final point that isn’t shown in the data above. Three’s 4G service comes at no extra cost, and with the option of totally unlimited data.

Talking of which, word is that Three will soon end the current £10 discount applied to The One Plan (£15 on a 12-month SIM-only contract, £18 on 30-day SIM-only contract) and replace it with a £5 discount, meaning new customers will pay £20 and £22 respectively. So if you’re looking to go with Three for 4G, even before every user is activated, don’t hang around for too long!

Edit: Corrected an O2 test shown in Kbps to Mbps. Thanks to qasdfdsaq on Digital Spy for noticing!

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Written by Jonathan Morris

Writing about technology, with a focus on mobile, since the early 1990s! Former editor of What Mobile magazine, writer for The Telegraph, Stuff, Know Your Mobile, Pocket Gamer, Smart TV Radar and more. Regular Tweeter, occasional YouTuber, keen amateur photographer and forum moderator. If you like what I write, please consider deactivating your ad blocker or making a donation via PayPal to help fund this site.

3 comments

  1. That was a good test. I am with three network on 3G. Agree that in Central London speed to vary, normally average about 3mb download at Oxford Circus. My home town at Croydon speed normally around 10 to 14 mb. Outside London, e.g North Wales, I was experiencing a whopping download speed of 22 mb. Overall for 3G, three network is the best. Still looking forward to 4G hopefully in few weeks time.

    Like

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