EE secures top ranking in all mobile performance categories in the UK, including the carrier's fifth straight annual win for overall performance
Three and Vodafone continue their challenge for best network, with the latter carrier making progress in data performance testing
O2 ranks fourth in overall, reliability, speed, and data, but showcases steady improvements, making gains in call performance
However, the gap in performance is narrow, showing the need for 5G implementation for further differentiation
The most scientific and comprehensive survey of mobile network performance, conducted by RootMetrics, by IHS Markit, shows EE has confirmed its position as market leader in mobile network performance across the UK, winning all six mobile performance categories tested.
EE's dominance is cemented by the fact the carrier has won the last 10 half-yearly national reports produced by RootMetrics, claiming five consecutive years as the UK's leading network in terms of overall performance. This is measured by a combination of reliability and speed results from data, call, and text testing.
A previous joint winner of call performance in the prior half-year testing period, Three now loses its top spot, while also falling to third behind Vodafone for data performance. However, Three remains in second position for overall performance, with Vodafone ranking third.
O2 remains in last place out of the four mobile operators. However, data shows it has made improvements in call performance, which tests how reliably each network is able to place and maintain calls.
Kevin Hasley, head of product at RootMetrics and executive director of performance benchmarking at IHS Markit, said: "EE's reputation for delivering fast speeds and strong performance is maintained in our testing, while Three's consistent reliability places it as another leading carrier across the UK. Although O2 sits fourth, it has also deployed three-carrier aggregation in some UK cities, and if it increases its rollout, it could lead to faster speeds in future testing."
5G - a necessary differentiator
While EE consolidated its dominance by scooping all six award categories, the results show narrow differences on some of the key metrics that consumers care most about. Based on RootMetrics' scoring mechanism for overall performance, EE scored 96.0 out of 100 and Three, in second place, registered 93.0 out of 100. Vodafone scored a 90.1 and O2 came in at 86.6. In areas like network reliability margins are even closer, with EE boasting a 97.6 mark and Three scoring 96.5.
With mobile performance ever improving and all operators enhancing their scores, the incentive to make the most of 5G-related spectrum is high. Mobile operators rely on the ability to convince consumers of their performance prowess via independent studies like RootMetrics' and the ability to deploy 5G infrastructure successfully is the new battleground for differentiation.
Hasley, continued: "The first movers in 5G are going to have an advantage as consumers will see a big change in performance of their devices across critical functions like live streaming video. EE's high performance in 4G testing can lead to a seamless service transition to 5G. However, it will be a brand new playing field once the technology is live. 5G will give all networks an opportunity to be a leader in performance and service provision, and RootMetrics will be ready to test it when it's live."
"5G will most likely have the biggest impact in urban areas as the technology will initially be deployed in centers of high population density. Operators will still need to prove and maintain 4G and even 3G performance across wider geographies because that's how we use our phones. We accept that when on the move and in more rural locations performance will be lower, but we still have expectations about minimum levels of performance."
Home nations testing results
While EE dominates overall network performance across the UK in its entirety Vodafone scores higher in Northern Ireland and Three is competing with EE in Wales.
"The competitive landscape seen on a nation-by-nation basis is best explained by spectrum deployment and how well carriers use its data to improve network performance. We're now looking ahead to an exciting 2019, as 5G begins to roll out. We may not necessarily see a difference in network coverage, but we will see the potential for greater capacity and increased speeds across the country." explains Hasley.
During the first half of 2018, RootMetrics scouters drove 21,000 miles, visited 654 indoor locations, and conducted over 590,000 tests to statistically cover all four UK nations. All tests were conducted using unmodified, off-the-shelf phones purchased from carrier stores.
This is the 10th time RootMetrics issues its nationwide results, including a breakdown of network performance across all the United Kingdom. The reports combine scientifically based data with real-world mobile performance insights to offer consumers a completely independent view of each carrier's performance where they live, work, and play.
RootScore Award Summary for the UK, first half of 2018
Following is a summary of RootScore Award winners for the first half of 2018 in the UK. For more details, view the entire report, here .
Overall Performance: EE Network Reliability: EE Network Speed: EE Data Performance: EE Call Performance: EE Text Performance: EE
RootMetrics®, by IHS Markit, is mobile analytics that measures mobile network performance and offers insights into the consumer mobile experience. RootMetrics provides data on mobile network performance to help the networks improve and give consumers an end-to-end look at mobile performance. To ensure that RootMetrics testing reflects real-world mobile usage, testing is conducted based on where, when and how consumers use their smartphones most often.