EE crowned as best performing mobile network... again

16 August 2018   By Jo Bailey

For the fifth consecutive year, EE has been named as the UK's best performing mobile network, but by a rapidly narrowing margin.

In the examination of 4G and 3G operator performance across the UK, RootMetrics conducted just short of 600,000 tests using a standard Samsung Galaxy S8. Testing five key metrics and issuing an overall quality score ranked EE at the top of the charts at 96 out of 100, with Three just behind on 93.

Although this isn't the first time EE have scooped the top spot, it is the only year they've won first place in all metrics categories too. This result puts them in the lead for call and text performance, network reliability, speed and data too.

EE have set the bar in this annual report since 2012, when they launched the first superfast 4G packages in the UK. Since then, the network operator has rolled out 4G+ before any other operator, offering download speeds in excess of 400Mb, which surely served to cement its position as a high performing network.

ee tablet in city
© EE

Narrow differences

Owned and operated by BT, EE asserted their dominance with a win in all six categories. However, some of the results were almost certainly a little closer than they would have liked. Based on the RootMetrics data, key issues showed a much narrower margin than the overall score would suggest.

An example would be network reliability, where Three came a close second at 96.5 to EE's 97.6. Call performance was also a close-run race, with EE beating Three with only 1.8 points in hand.

It was also noted that while EE continues to outpace the competition in the cities, in many rural areas other networks performed as well, if not better, than the overall winner. In Northern Ireland, for instance, Vodafone did far better than elsewhere in the UK, and in Wales Three was keeping up with EE on all metrics. EE have pledged to provide 4G services to 99.8% of the population by 2020, but until then checking coverage in specific areas is still advised.

All operators have made significant investments into infrastructure over recent years, designed to improve speed, reliability and performance in all areas. Notably EE have undergone a customer service overhaul since their record breaking £1m fine in 2015.

The full results of the investigation were:

EE Three Vodafone O2
Overall Performance 96
(Up from 93.7)
(Up from 92)
(Down from 87.2)
Network Reliability 97.6 96.5 92.2 91.6
Network Speed 91.8 82.9 86.9 73.1
Data Performance 96 92.1 92.5 86.4
Call Performance 95.6 93.8 86 85.6
Text Performance 99.1 96.8 96.6 96.6
More info More info More info More info

Despite O2 picking up the wooden spoon in all categories, RootMetrics' testers noted that in both call and text performance, the provider was making significant improvements year on year.

In fact, all four mobile network operators saw improvements in some categories over the results of the last report. Undoubtedly, even more improvements should be expected as the operators look to maximise their investment in additional spectrum, following the auction earlier this year.

Will 5G be the deciding factor?

It's clear that, with scores ever closer and all operators working to improve their margin, the incentive to benefit from 5G functionality, and to be the first to provide this, has never been higher. Kevin Hasley, head of product at RootMetrics, commented that:

Further reading

"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."

He speculated that 5G will have the biggest impact in areas of dense population, such as urban city centres. However, he also warned that operators needed to be mindful of ensuring adequate 4G and 3G performance nationwide, as consumers expect to be able to use their phones when travelling too.

The RootMetrics report talks positively about 5G rollout starting by the end of next year. However, the reality is that, although we may see small scale commercial rolls outs by the likes of EE, Ofcom won't be releasing all the necessary spectrum until at least 2020. 5G is a certainty for the future, but for the average consumer on the street, not for a few years yet.

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