5G testing in London: EE & Vodafone (part one)

I’ve been meaning to get out and about to test both EE and Vodafone 5G for a while, but it took a while to get my hands on a Vodafone 5G handset.

Now I’m happy to announce that I currently have a phone to play with on both 5G networks. Three is yet to launch a ‘proper’ service for handsets, concentrating on home broadband to begin with, while O2 is waiting to launch in October.

I’m still waiting to go out and do some proper comparison testing, but I had a morning free this week to have a quick play around London.

The two handsets are the OnePlus 7 Pro on EE and the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G on Vodafone. Each is on an unlimited data plan.

If you check out my Mi Mix 3 review, bear in mind this is of the 4G version and has a slightly different specification. The 5G version comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC with 3,800mAh battery.

In the next week or two, I’ll do a short review of the phone to compare the differences.

For now, check out the speeds I obtained between 10am and midday on a weekday.

Location: St John Street, Farringdon

Winner: Vodafone

Location: City Thameslink railway station (north side)

Winner: EE

Location: Old Street

Vodafone’s 5G coverage around here was patchy at best. It only took a short walk to lose it, and perhaps reflects the fact that Vodafone’s London coverage is very much dotted around, whereas EE’s is more contiguous but perhaps in fewer areas overall.

Winner: EE

Location: Near Drayton Park (on train)

On my train journey back out of London, it should be pointed out that Vodafone doesn’t claim to have good coverage in this location. That said, when you’re getting over 50Mbps in a metal train you shouldn’t complain too much!

Winner: EE

Location: Smithfield Market

This was quite a surprise, as it is one of the lowest speeds I’ve had on 5G with EE. To be sure it wasn’t just a one-off, I did a couple more tests and this was the best.

Winner: Vodafone

Location: Central Street, EC1V

This was just around the corner from Old Street, where I lost 5G on Vodafone entirely, while EE’s speed was almost halved in comparison. Obviously both speeds are still good.

Winner: EE

My thoughts

So what’s the conclusion of this very small test?

Well, in reality there isn’t much of a conclusion you can draw from such a small test. However, it does seem likely that had I continued with more locations I may well have found it pretty much a 50/50 split.

A classic case of ‘swings and roundabouts’.

The more patchy coverage of Vodafone is something that should improve. Looking at its own coverage map and enabling ‘planned coverage’, it already shows many areas currently not covered or only offering variable coverage due to be ‘filled in’ within the next three months.

EE doesn’t show planned coverage, and doesn’t even make it easy to distinguish between 4G and 5G on its maps, thanks to its choice of colour palette. However, if you look carefully you can see that where there is coverage it is pretty solid, and I’ve found from various travels around town that coverage indoors can be pretty decent too.

Even where Vodafone fell back to 4G, the speeds were always respectable and a sign of how both networks have built networks that can still offer a good service in busy locations like London.

Capacity improvements

You can still find places which haven’t had the capacity boosts necessary, such as my discovery on a recent trip to Bournemouth on a hot, sunny, day with a fully packed beach, that the service on the beach was almost non-existent for both EE and Vodafone.

Speeds were measured in kilobits per seconds, not megabits.

Bournemouth, for what it’s worth, is a planned 5G location for Vodafone before the end of the year. Hopefully I can go back and check out the improvement, and see if it’s as good as the work put in by Vodafone to fix issues in Brighton earlier this year.

Are you now convinced it’s time to upgrade?

Anyway, what are your thoughts on 5G now that every main network will have a live 5G network running before Christmas? With three networks now offering unlimited data, the market has rapidly changed in a very small time.

Where Three once had the unique selling point of unlimited data, that benefit has now become more blurred. It still wins on price, but can it win on speed? Three’s performance in London has improved, but for 4G it simply doesn’t have the necessary spectrum.

However, when it comes to 5G, Three is swimming in spectrum so I can’t wait to see how things pan out in the months ahead! Especially if unlimited data encourages more and more data usage, including tethering and the use of home/office routers.


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