The latest OpenSignal UK State of the Market Report, put together in association with Which?, shows that 4G speeds in the UK have almost halved in the last year – so what is causing this decline?
Decline in 4G speeds
The main reason that 4G speeds have been decreasing is that more people are signing up to 4G LTE, creating congestion on the networks. While a slowdown is almost inevitable as networks become busier and new subscribers come on board, it could be expected that improvements in infrastructure would go some way to counteracting this.
In fact this has been the case. Short term increases in speed have been seen as networks have rolled out improvements to the network and added LTE-enabled cell towers, but these haven’t been sufficient to prevent an overall downward trend in 4G speeds.
According to the report the average download speed over 4G in September 2013 was 19Mbps. This had reduced to just 10.6 Mbps in August 2014. Over the same period 3G speeds have increased slightly, reducing the gap between the two. The expectation when 4G was first launched was that it would be five to ten times faster than 3G networks, and providers were able to charge a premium based on these claims. However, current average speeds are less than three times those experienced on 3G networks, which now average 4.03Mbps.
Relative speed of 4G providers
As well as looking at overall speeds on the UK’s 4G network, the OpenSignal report also looked at the average download speeds achieved by individual providers. It showed that over the last three months Vodafone has had the fastest 4G LTE in the UK, with average speeds of 13.21 Mbps. EE came in second with speeds of 11.78 Mbps, and O2 was in third place with 10.5 Mbps. Three lagged some way behind with average 4G speeds of 8.95 Mbps. The report adds some context to these speeds by stating that the country with the fastest 4G is Australia, which had an average speed of 24.5 Mbps in February 2014.
4G network coverage
Another element measured by the report was 4G network coverage. Unsurprisingly London was found to have the best 4G coverage with users having access to the network more than 50% of the time. Wales was found to have the worst 4G coverage, with users having access to 4G less than 10% of the time. EE was the network with the best 4G coverage, although O2 was found to have better coverage in Scotland.
According to Which? Executive Director, Richard Lloyd, “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.”
OpenSignal data is based on information from almost 40,000 active OpenSignal UK users, enabling network performance to be measured across the country, inside homes and offices – with data on speed and coverage being collected automatically 24/7.