A crowd-sourced survey conducted by OpenSignal in conjunction with Which?, today reveals the current state of the UK mobile phone network.

Based on over 67 million data readings provided by users running the OpenSignal app on their Android or iOS device, the survey also shows that in the last year 4G data speeds have fallen by almost half.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that OpenSignal found that Vodafone users currently get the fastest 4G speeds, despite EE having rolled out its double speed service to a large percentage of its network since launch, with even faster speeds on the horizon and a whole lot more spectrum to play with.

Three came out top for 3G, but lagged far behind with 4G, having launched its 4G network last and currently choosing to install 4G in heavily congested areas before rolling out coverage to more rural locations.

Vodafone and O2 users had the lowest 3G data speeds, and a higher chance of making its users fall back to 2G.

Key findings

  • Three came top for 3G coverage, as well as providing the highest average for 3G data speeds. Vodafone had the worst 3G speeds, followed by O2.
  • EE has the best 4G coverage, with Three last.
  • Vodafone offers the fastest average 4G data speeds, followed by EE . Three comes in last.
  • Three’s lack of 2G coverage had an impact on the time its users spend without any signal, but not by as big a margin as you might expect because of the unrivalled 3G coverage.

The survey data, based on 67,699,697 individual data points picked out between July 1st and October 1st 2014, shows average 4G data speeds are falling, which might not make for comfortable reading by network bosses.

However, this might not be too surprising when you consider more people are signing up to 4G every day, and are increasingly likely to use data because of a combination of faster speeds, plus more powerful devices that further encourage usage of data-heavy services like Netflix, iPlayer, Sky Go etc.

The average 4G data speed has seen a fall from around 19Mbps in September 2013 to around 10Mbps in August 2014. However, 3G speeds have increased slightly from an average of just over 3Mbps to almost 4Mbps.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “We’ve looked at consumers’ real-life experiences and found big differences in service between mobile phone providers, depending on where you live or work. We’re calling on providers to publish the reliability and speeds their networks actually achieve so people can make an informed choice before signing on the dotted line.

“We also support the Government’s action on mobile roaming to rid the country of unnecessary ‘not spots’, so that a lost mobile phone signal becomes a thing of the past.”

Head of marketing at OpenSignal, Samuel Johnston, said: “We hope this report can draw better attention to the current state of mobile network coverage in the UK, and help consumers better understand how the networks differ in terms of speed and real-world coverage. We encourage everyone to download the free OpenSignal app to help contribute to our impartial coverage maps; so that no one will have to rely on guesswork when it comes to getting the best signal in their area”

The data in more detail

Average 4G speeds in the last three months

  • Three – 8.95Mbps
  • EE – 11.78Mbps
  • O2 – 10.50Mbps
  • Vodafone – 13.21Mbps

Average 3G speeds in the last three months

  • Three – 4.45Mbps
  • EE – 3.96Mbps
  • O2 – 2.92Mbps
  • Vodafone – 3.48Mbps

With no 2G for Three users to fall back on, it came last when it came to measuring how much time a mobile user was without a signal at all:

Time with no signal in the last three months

  • Three – 5.65%
  • EE – 5.16%
  • O2 – 5.27%
  • Vodafone – 4.97%

But the same lack of 2G had a positive impact on the overall time a user spent on 3G or 4G:

Percentage of time connected on either 3G or 4G in the last three months

  • Three – 93.93%
  • EE – 81.12%
  • O2 – 68.59%
  • Vodafone – 64.70%

UK 4G coverage

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UK 3G coverage

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The future

It will be interesting to see how things change in the future, given the pending introduction of 800MHz 4G service on EE and Three, the introduction of faster (300Mbps) 4G data services, nicknamed 4G+ and 4.5G, and VoLTE that will allow networks to carry voice over 4G and finally begin to introduce 4G in locations not currently covered by 3G or 2G.

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that OpenSignal may be giving slightly misleading data with regards to EE’s 4G speeds – because some tariffs may not offer double speed access. With no way for OpenSignal to know what tariff a user is on (unless the app is updated to ask for this information) it is quite possible that some people got a lower speed than might have been available with a different plan.

More information

Check the full results and more detailed breakdowns on the OpenSignal website.

Want to help provide data for future surveys? Then get the app for Android and iOS!

Finally, if you’re suffering from poor signal, Which? has produced a guide to explain your consumer rights.

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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.

2 comments

  1. A very good article, I’ve been on 3 for many years now and their 3G services are very good, Shropshire isn’t blessed with 4G yet and call and text back up on wednesday keeps me ticking over nicely 😊

    Like

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