What's the best 4G network in the UK?


In this article we will help you to research who has the best 4g network. We have collated a range of links and resources togther in one place to make the process quick and easy for you.

4g networks uk

Network Coverage

When considering who has the best 4g network coverage, one comparison option is Ofcom’s mobile coverage checker which gives an indication of each network’s areas that have a strong 4G signal. In November 2014 Ofcom also completed their first research into 4G broadband speeds and it's a great guide to which network has the best performance.

Measurements used in the Ofcom analysis

The research methodology consisted of over 200,000 tests from 3G and 4G smartphone devices from 5 major UK cities. There were 4 key measurements used in each analysis and we've explained a bit more about them below.

Download speed

This is a measurement of how quickly you are able to download data such as files, applications, video and audio content. It was measured by downloading a 2GB file in the tests.

Upload speed

This is a measure of upload speed from the smartphone device to a remote server. This represents activities such as uploading images or videos to on-line services or sending larger files as attachments. This was measured by uploading 100MB of random data in the tests.

Web browsing speed

A world real test of how long it takes to open web pages. A standard reference web page was used for each test.

Latency

The time for data to travel to a remote server and back. This is important for services such as video calls. This needs to be low.

Latest results and alternatives

At the time of writing the latest report was published by Ofcom in April 2015 and you can download it here.

If you want to look beyond the regulator, additional research is also provided by companies such as RootMetrics who provide a report that details mobile internet speeds and reliability (unfortunately it doesn't differentiate between 3G and 4G).

4G spectrums

Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the spectrum(s) that each 4G network use as some mobile handsets only support certain 4G spectrums. There are three different spectrums: 800MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.6GHz.

The lower spectrums, so 800MHz and to a certain extent 1.8GHz, can travel further and also penetrate the walls of buildings and other structures more easily - so this is great for both rural and city locations. However the 800MHz spectrum was only available in small 5 and 10MHz blocks which means it doesn't handle lots of users doing demanding tasks such as watching video so well.

The higher spectrums, so 2.6GHz and to a lesser extent 1.8GHz, are the opposite. They perform very well with thousands of connections and work very well in densely populated areas. The downside is that the range of the masts is not so good and the connection does not reach into building so well.

4G networks summary

Please see our summary of each network and the spectrums that they use below:

EE 4G Coverage

  • First network to launch 4G in 2012.
  • Double speed ‘4GEE’ available in 20 cities.
  • Maximum download speeds of 60Mb/s (average 20Mb/s) and upload of 11Mb/s (higher than many broadband connections), making EE the UK’s fastest network.
  • Uses all three (800MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.6GHz) spectrum bands.
  • Over 90% population coverage.
  • 4G+ uses 2.6GHz spectrum and is currently available in central London. The speeds offered by 4G+ are typically 20 times faster than 3G.
  • Initial connection rate of over 99% in the 16 largest cities as of 2014.
  • Highest data cap 50GB (shared plan).

Vodafone 4G Coverage

  • 4G network introduced in August 2013.
  • Vodafone don’t disclose the speeds they provide, stating they’re ‘six times faster than 3G’. However, during testing they recorded a high speed of 64.5Mb/s in London and Belfast and median speeds of 10Mb/s or above.
  • They also offer 4G LTE Advanced in London, Birmingham and Manchester at three times the speed of standard 4G.
  • 68% population coverage as of August 2015.
  • Uses the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands.
  • Shares a large amount of O2’s infrastructure.
  • Initial connection rate of 99% in the 16 largest cities as of late 2014.
  • Highest data cap 20GB.

O2 4G Coverage

Three 4G Coverage

Finally, you have the option of virtual providers. Virgin Mobile (business only) and BT offer 4G plans that use EE’s network and Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile offer 4G plans that use O2’s network. As they’re effectively resellers their prices can sometimes be better than the main providers.


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