EE the best network for 4G coverage but Vodafone is the fastest

Mobile phone coverage in the UK

EE has emerged as the best 4G network for coverage in our first mobile phone network state of the market report, produced in partnership with OpenSignal.  Data from OpenSignal users showed that EE customers had access to their 4G network more often than customers with any of the other three providers.

But while EE led the nation in 4G coverage it was outpaced by Vodafone for 4G speed – with the average Vodafone 4G customer enjoying speeds of over 13Mbps.  Surprisingly, we also found that the average 4G speed has started to drop.

The computer vs the crowd

Our report offers a fresh look at the true state of the UK mobile phone network. Unlike most current coverage maps and reports – which are based on computer modelling to predict coverage – our report uses real data from real users.

Based on more than 60 million data readings from 40,000 OpenSignal users this crowd sourced data lets OpenSignal track when users have access to their 2G, 3G or 4G network and just how fast their connection is. It shows that coverage is nowhere near as widespread as the maps provided by many network providers would have you believe.

You can read the full mobile phone network state of the market report or see the highlights below.

4G or not 4G? – ‘probably not’ is the answer to that particular question

EE was the first company to launch 4G and it maintains a significant lead in coverage, with its customers able to access the network 50% of the time. That’s 10% more often than Vodafone and O2 4G users and twice as often as that of bottom placed Three.

While networks are still rolling out their 4G networks, 3G has been around for years. But we’ve found that both services can be patchy. Three customers, for example, enjoyed access to mobile internet more than 94% of the time, but for Vodafone users this dropped to just 65%.

Predictably, London was the best region for both 4G and 3G coverage and while density of people makes this understandable it doesn’t excuse terrible coverage in other areas. Wales was the worst region for both 4G and 3G, although poor 4G coverage was widespread outside the capital on all networks apart from EE.

Faster than home broadband but speeds are falling

The good news is that if you can get your hands on a 3G or 4G signal it should be pretty fast. The slowest average 4G speed came from Three, but at 8.95Mbps it’s still faster than the average ADSL home broadband connection of 7.4Mbps. And, if speed is important to you, there’s a clear winner.

While Kevin Bacon has been on TV talking up EE speeds our data showed Vodafone to be the fastest, with a blistering average speed of 13.21Mpbs. In comparison, EE clocked in at 11.78Mbps and O2 at 10.50Mbps.

We also found that average 4G speeds are slowing – from 19Mbps to 10.16Mbps in just under a year. The reason? It’s likely because more customers have signed up to 4G increasing demand on the network and slowing speeds. The good news is that as customers continue to sign up, we won’t necessarily see speeds fall any further. That’s because providers are hoisting more masts to cope with the extra demand.

Speeds for 3G were significantly slower than 4G but far from snail paced. Three was the fastest network with an average speed of 4.45Mbps and, while O2’s average speed of 2.92Mbps would struggle with streaming films, it’s still fast enough to take care of basic tasks like emailing and reading websites online.

Which? expert view – ‘Help us build a definitive map of network coverage’

Rory-BolandI know my mobile phone signal inside out. I know that my morning with Absolute Radio 80s will be interrupted as I walk down the street and the signal drops from 3G to 2G. I know that I need to walk to the front of my flat to take a call because there is no signal at the back.

Coverage maps show 100% coverage in my area of North London but like many of you I know they are wrong. That’s why we’ve teamed up with OpenSignal to try and offer a report and map that better reflects the real user experience.

We plan to run this state of the market report regularly to see how coverage and speeds are improving – or not – and what the differences are between the networks. And you can help – OpenSignal has nearly 40,000 users but the more users it has the more accurate the data will be. By downloading the OpenSignal app (for Android or Apple phones) you can help us produce a definitive map of coverage and speed in the UK and better chart your region.
Rory Boland – Which? deputy technology editor

More on this

State of the market report – read the full report into coverage and speed
OpenSignal Map – check coverage where you are
Best mobile phone networks – our survey results revealed

10 replies

  1. At last Which? talks about this subject. Mobile phone providers have been getting away with selling deals to customers based on coverage that doesn’t exist. Why? because they can.

    Walk around with your phone and see where you have network and then compare that with the map provided by your provider. The map will look like a fairytale.

    1. I also have an issue with O2 signal. I bought a new phone from Tesco for my wife only to find that the signal at home was virtually non-existent. When I called to complain, I made the mistake of saying my wife uses the phone at home.
      OH OH ….sorry sir our “contract” states that we don’t guarantee reception indoors!! WWHHHAAT surely that’s where most people sue their phones?
      After excalating my complaint several times eventually resolved. Who are these people trying to kid??

  2. It’s a con My O2 signal is terrible and when you phone up all you are told is that we have good coverage in your postcode maybe it’s your walls. We all have walls. Are mobile signals not designed to go through walls? of course they are. o2 just have terrible coverage here.

  3. It will never cease to amaze me that the British public think they deserve coverage everywhere. If you want a good signal, if you want good broadband live somewhere where there are other people. Service providers aren’t charities. Why should they roll out to places where they won’t make money.

  4. Having 4G is nice, I have found some when in London or Nottingham. Being on Vodaphone as far 4G is concerned Wales ( I live just outside Newport ) doesn’t exist yet they are pushing it in every sales location they can; 3.5G would be nice and as for phone signal whats that, its weak outdoors and non existent indoors yet they profess to be one of the best networks in the UK, my previous provider O2 is significantly better but still not upto what you pay for. I pay £38/month and deffinately don’t get anything like what I pay for.

    Instead of constantly adding new services I wish all networks would concentrate on strengthening their existing infrastructure and signal to give better coverage everywhere rather than excellent coverage in small patches, after all they provide “mobile phones” not just internet devices.

  5. You recently awarded Giffgaff as the best vfm network. However your members should be aware that currently Giffgaff is reducing 3G speeds below those on its parent network O2 by about half or more. I had read about this on Giffgaff fora and when I decided to upgrade my Motorola Moto E to a Motorola G 4G (and it was cheapest at an O2 shop and I already had an O2 SIM ) I tested both phones with the O2 sim on 3G on an Ookla speed test to compare with the Giffgaff sim. The comments on Giffgaff fora were correct. 3G speeds on O2 were much faster, usually in the range 2-6 MB/s while Giffgaff speeds were 0.5 – 1.9. These tests took place in Greenwich and in my office near Fleet Street, at the same time with both phones. O2 4G speeds at both sites on the Moto G 4G were between 5-14 MB/s at both sites.

    1. As someone who has used both O2 and giffgaff in parallel for several years now, my experience has always shown that giffgaff users get very low priorities for data speeds over O2’s network.

      At the end of the day I think it is only fair that O2 handsets get the highest priority in the use of the network; after all their owners will be paying much more per Mbyte used.

      I think giffgaff is worth considering if you want (or need) an inexpensive service; O2 provide a good service for a fair but not cheap price and Tesco sit well in the middle ground between these two extremes.

      Other networks are available but I do not have any significant recent experience of them.

  6. Cant download OpenSignal’s free Android or iPhone apps because the map confirms what I already knew. No yellow or orange colouring, only green and very poor with Vodafone 2G.
    I have also not been able to top up on my Nokia C3 handset since June this year & Vodafone wont tell me their technical service is looking into it and will advise me, but I hear nothing. They wont respond to request for information, nor a deadlock.
    I dont see why I should ply Vodafone with money from their website, because no phone numbers on their site are accurate, and they dont respond to their webmail.

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